Thirty-two-year-old Mustafa Ayoubi was shot and killed on Feb. 16 in Indianapolis. Police officers arrested Dustin Passarelli as a murder suspect and are calling the incident a case of road rage turned violent. But Ayoubi’s family believe the Muslim American was killed in a hate crime.
“We don’t believe it was road rage. He meant to kill Mustafa,” Zahra Ayoubi, the sister of the deceased, told HuffPost. “I don’t want Mustafa’s name to be just gone, that he was a victim of road rage. He was a victim of a hate crime.”
Witnesses at the scene of the shooting allege that Passarelli yelled racial and Islamophobic slurs before shooting Ayoubi.
The encounter began at approximately 7:30 p.m. on the I-465 highway when Passarelli, 33, was on his way home from work. He told police that he spotted another vehicle driving aggressively behind him, according to court documents obtained by Fox 59. Passarelli claimed that he heard “a bang on the passenger side of his car” and thought that his car had been hit by the other vehicle or by something thrown at his car. He said he pursued Ayoubi’s car until Ayoubi stopped outside an apartment complex where he had planned to meet friends to play pool.
It was then witnesses said that Passarelli provoked Ayoubi by calling him a “foreigner” who needed to “go back to your country” and by insulting the prophet Muhammad as a pedophile. Passarelli claimed that Ayoubi made an anti-Semitic remark, but Ayoubi’s friend Usman Ashraf disputed that allegation, per the Indy Star. Passarelli also said that Ayoubi came over to the driver’s side of his car and punched his window. According to witnesses, Passarelli shone a laser light at Ayoubi, temporarily blinding him, and shot him through the window. When Ayoubi tried to flee, the witnesses said, Passarelli shot him again.
Ayoubi was pronounced dead at the scene. The coroner’s office documented at least two gunshot wounds to his back.
Police are not investigating the murder as a hate crime because Indiana is one of just five states that do not have a hate crimes law.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, thinks that needs to change.
“It’s important to send a message that that kind of violence is not acceptable and you’ll pay a heavier penalty if you engage in such violence,” Hooper told HuffPost. He called on the state of Indiana to enact a hate crimes law and urged federal authorities to intervene in this case.
Zahra Ayoubi and her family are pleading for the same.
“I want people to be aware that this hate is real and we need to do something about it. We need to have justice. We need to have some type of laws,” Ayoubi said.
“I want to make sure this person does not get out and kill some other person and have the ability or the opportunity to kill any other innocent person and take away somebody from their family just because he hated the fact [the other person] was born in a certain way, in a certain country or a certain culture. That’s not right,” she added.
Mustafa Ayoubi immigrated from Afghanistan as a teenager in 2001. He later became a U.S. citizen and graduated from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Zahra, one of his four siblings, described Mustafa as the “genius of the family” and said the two were best friends.
“He was the smartest person in our family,” she said. “He had information about everything; he used to watch documentaries and do research.” She also described him as an avid cricket player and the life of the party.
“I don’t think my tears are going to do anything for Mustafa,” his sister said. “Nothing is going to bring Mustafa back. The least thing the law and courts can do is provide justice for our family.”
A vigil for Ayoubi took place on Thursday. An initial hearing for Passarelli, who is currently being held in Marion County Jail, is scheduled for Friday.