BEIRUT: Amid heart-wrenching scenes, Ismail Hachem and his family bid farewell to their 19-year-old daughter Aya, who was killed a week ago in a shooting in Blackburn in the north of England.
A coffin containing Aya’s body was flown to Beirut aboard a Middle East Airlines flight early on Saturday. Aya’s father, mother and two brothers accompanied the coffin, while a third brother is expected to return from Australia.
Relatives and friends in Qlaileh in southern Lebanon, 95 km from Beirut, joined the grieving family. Aya’s mother insisted on staying by the coffin’s side. “It is the last time I see her before bidding her farewell,” she said.
Residents of the town are mourning the young woman’s death, with pictures of a smiling Aya on display in people’s living rooms and in cars in a show of solidarity with the devastated family.
Aya’s mother told Arab News: “I do not have much time. I have to say goodbye to my daughter Aya.”
She said that moments before the fatal shooting, Aya had sent her photographs, saying that she was fasting and wanted to make a date cake.
Aya went to a nearby supermarket to buy ingredients for the cake. “Aya was killed while she was hungry. She left the house and did not come back. I waited for an hour. I received a call from my husband who told me helicopters were flying over the area. I told him to rush to the supermarket to search for Aya,” she said.
Aya’s father tried to go to the market, but police cordoned off the area and he was not allowed to enter.
The mourning mother said: “I checked on Google and found out that there was a shooting incident and that a woman was shot, and that was when I got more anxious.”
She added: “I realized that something terrible had happened to my daughter, but I did not expect that the two officers who knocked on our door would tell us that Aya had been killed. I fell down at their feet shouting, crying, and telling them that they were either wrong or joking, this cannot be true.
“I do not know if she died instantly or if she suffered before she died. This hurts me a lot because I did not know what happened and because I could not see her body. I am a mother in pain. I lost my daughter whom I tried to save from Lebanon. We thought that living abroad would protect our children. Now all I ask for is justice. I want to see her murderer suffer in prison as Aya suffered before she died.”
She confirmed that her family “has no problems with anyone — instead it has many friends, and we have moved as refugees to Blackburn.”
The Hachem family left Lebanon on Nov. 24, 2011 on a family visit to Aya’s paternal uncle, who lives in the UK. Aya’s father applied for asylum for himself and his family. Aya’s mother said that before applying for asylum “we moved from one region to another on the request of British authorities, before being granted a residence visa valid for two and a half years.”
Aya’s father is still in shock. “I saw in Aya the embodiment of my dreams and wishes,” he told Arab News.
“She was an ambitious and passionate girl, studying law at the University of Salford. I used to tell her that one day she would become Britain’s prime minister. Aya was a smart girl, always ready to help people, and worked with charities all over London, Manchester and Burnley for nine years.
“Aya was two meters from the supermarket. She was killed by mistake. The police arrested 13 people and five appeared in court today.
“More than 150 police officers rushed to the scene of the crime. The shooting has nothing to do with terrorism or racism. It was the result of a personal dispute. Aya was the victim of this dispute, as the shooter reportedly meant to target another person,” he said.
Hachem said that he did not regret seeking asylum in England.
“I escaped the meaningless and absurd wars in my country, but it was the destiny of my daughter to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This crime could have occurred anywhere. But the Blackburn region is small, quiet and safe. Everybody showed me sympathy and the whole country condemned the crime. I want justice to take its course and for the criminals to be punished.”
Hachem said he would return to England with his family when Beirut airport reopens.
“Life there is comfortable and there is safety, but fate wanted to take Aya’s life,” he said.