CHICAGO: Abdullah Al-Ghareibi was in his home in Riyadh about to go to sleep on Jan. 23 when he received an email from the Philadelphia Police Department.
Al-Ghareibi said that he had spent an enjoyable weekend in Washington D.C. with his two sons and returned to Riyadh days earlier, sharing happy memories of the trip with his wife and daughter.
However, Al-Ghareibi told The Ray Hanania Radio show, sponsored by Arab News, that he was “shocked” by an email from police asking him to “immediately” contact their offices regarding a “homicide” and his eldest son, Al-Waleed Al-Ghareibi, 25. Waleed was a university student in his final year studying network engineering.
The father was told his son had been murdered in his Philadelphia apartment building by a 19-year-old suspect, Nicole Marie Rodgers, who was from Atlanta, Georgia. Rodgers was moving out of the building and may have targeted the son for robbery, police told the father. Believing no one was in the building, Rodgers allegedly stabbed Waleed multiple times after she asked for his help.
“Nobody knows exactly what happened. It is just like a logic explanation from police, and the landlady. She (the suspect) didn’t speak and obviously my son cannot talk on his behalf. She tried to befriend just him in the recent days, try to get close. We understand from my son, he was like kind of annoyed. She knocked at his door. His room is on the first floor. She knocked on his window and she said I had forgot the keys and can you open the door for me. She tried to engage in conversation with him. She wanted to find a way just how to rob him,” Al-Ghareibi told The Ray Hanania Radio show on Wednesday, May 31, struggling with his grief.
Al-Ghareibi said that the police believe the murder was driven by the suspect wanting to rob Waleed before she moved out of the building. Police said that Waleed was allegedly stabbed multiple times by Rodgers, who was accompanied by her parents in court. She had expressed no remorse, police said.
Al-Ghareibi said that his family had received extensive support from the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. as they worked through their pain. Waleed was scheduled to graduate from the university in May, and his father was invited to accept the degree.
“I really thank them, thank the (Saudi) government. They are taking all the financial burden on it,” Al-Ghareibi said.
“But still, just emotionally, it is very hard on us as a family. We need to see the end of it. We need her to get what she really deserves. You think something might happen along the way with the court and lawyers and stuff, jury. You know it is not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy, but we hope she gets what she really, really deserves. What she deserves is a life without the possibility of parole. That’s what she really deserves. But what will happen, I don’t know. It has caused a lot of hurdles we have to jump.”
Al-Ghareibi said that the university his son attended had contacted him and invited him to a memorial service, and presented him with his son’s diploma during graduation ceremonies.
“It was very touching,” he said. “I wished he received the degree by himself. That’s what happened. You have to live with it. It’s very needless,” Al-Ghareibi said, noting that his wife and daughter had not seen Waleed for nearly three years because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Waleed Al-Ghareibi was one of three Saudi university students who died in the US in 2023, including Abdulrahman Al-Anzi, 29, who was with friends at a tourist location along the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio on Jan. 30 when he fell into the freezing lake waters. He was recovered from the lake but pronounced dead at the scene.
On May 22, Atheer Al-Khalban, 28, was touring Glacier National Park in Montana with friends when she strayed off the trail and fell over a rocky cliff down a gorge into Avalanche Creek. She was spotted by other tourists who tried to resuscitate her but Al-Khalban, who was attending college in Kansas, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Glacier National Park Public Affairs Officer Gina Kerzman expressed condolences to the Al-Khalban family.
“Atheer was hiking a very popular trail in Glacier National Park that is known as the Avalanche Lake Trail. Sometime during her hike, early on in her hike, she went near the water. Nobody saw what happened exactly, but she ended up going in the water. She was swept down through the Avalanche Creek gorge and was pulled from the water by visitors who saw her in the water down below,” Kerzman said, noting that there was a steep drop-off along the rocky edge several feet from the visitor’s path.
“Every year we have fatalities in the park. Last year, I think, we had seven fatalities. The number one cause of death is drowning. Number two is falling, people being up on high levels either mountain climbing or just being at high elevations and falling.”
Al-Khalban was walking several feet behind her friends when she disappeared into the gorge and waters. Kerzman said that more than 3 million people visit Glacier National Park every year. May is the beginning of the most popular season for tourists.
Saudi Arabia embassy spokesman, Fahad Nazer, said that the embassy does everything possible to help Saudi families who are in need and suffer tragedies such as these.
“Ensuring the safety and well-being of Saudi citizens living or visiting a foreign country is among the highest priorities for any diplomatic mission around the world. It certainly is the case for us here in the embassy in Washington D.C. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of Saudis have visited or studied in the United States. The overwhelming majority have a pleasant and productive stay,” Nazer told Arab News during the radio show interview, saying that it is one of the Kingdom’s “highest priorities” to keep Saudi citizens safe.
“However, occasionally accidents and tragedies do occur. As you said, over the past couple years we have had some tragic incidents that led to the deaths of a few young Saudis. As soon as we became aware of such tragedies, we immediately contacted the families of the deceased to provide any assistance that they may need. We also stay in touch with local authorities to make sure that we have all the details and we share these details with the families as soon as we obtain them.”
Nazer added: “Of course, our hearts go out to the families of these young Saudis. There is nothing more tragic than the death of a young person. However, I do have to stress that these are isolated incidents. We have no reason to believe that Saudi students or Saudis in general are being targeted in the United States.”
Al-Ghareibi, Kerzman and Nazer made their comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” broadcast on Wednesday, May 31 live in Detroit and Washington D.C. on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.