Updated March 26 @ 3 p.m.
The fatal beating of an Iraqi woman in her El Cajon home, in what may have been a hate crime, appeared to be an "isolated incident," the chief of the city's police department said Monday.
Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was found unconscious about 11:15 a.m. last Wednesday by her 17-year-old daughter in the dining room of their home in the 500 block of Skyview Street, according to El Cajon police.
She was hospitalized until Saturday, when she was taken off life support around 3 p.m.
El Cajon police Chief Jim Redman told reporters this afternoon that one window in the house the victim shared with her husband and children had been broken, and confirmed that a note was found near her body but would not reveal what it said.
"Based on the contents of this note, we are not ruling out the possibility this may be a hate crime," he said. "At this time we are not revealing the contents of the note, but it was threatening in nature.
"I want to stress there is other evidence in this case that we are looking at, and the possibility of a hate crime is just one of the aspects of this investigation. We are still in the very early stages of this investigation and have not drawn any conclusions at this point."
A similar threatening note was received by the family earlier this month, but they did not report it to authorities, Redman confirmed.
"Based on the evidence thus far, we believe this is an isolated incident," he said. "I encourage anyone in the community who has information regarding this case to please contact the El Cajon Police Department."
Redman added that he could not "comment on the evidence or the reasons why we believe it's an isolated incident, other than to just assure the community that that's our strong belief."
He said all family members had been interviewed.
The victim's teenage daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, told reporters her mother had been beaten with a tire iron and the note left in the home said, in part, "go back to your country, you terrorist."
Redman said the ECPD has never before recorded a hate crime against Middle Easterners, tens of thousands of whom live in San Diego's East County, a mix of Muslims and Chaldeans.
Police have sealed the county coroner's report about the death, but Redman said the victim died of head injuries. It was not immediately clear whether an autopsy had been completed.
Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said today that Alawadi would be buried in Baghdad, but it was unclear when her body would be released by authorities in San Diego.
Alawadi wore a traditional Muslim hijab, or headscarf, and had lived in the home only a few weeks, having just recently moved back to San Diego County from Michigan, according to a family friend.
Her husband had worked in San Diego as a contractor for the U.S. Army, serving as a cultural adviser to train soldiers who were being deployed to the Middle East.
"Our community members really need to take any type of hate notes or hate incidents very seriously and they need to report it," head of the San Diego Chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hanif Mohebi, said.
The case has gained national and even global attention, especially surrounding recent attention to hate crime laws in the wake of the .
"#RIPShaima" was the top topic on Twitter Saturday and Union Tribune reporter Steve Schmidt tweeted that the "local American-Islamic Relations council is getting calls from Al Jazeera, S. Africa, etc. on death of El Cajon woman."
Alawadi was described as kind, funny and caring by family members. She was known to sew special occasion dresses for children in the community, according to Mohebi. Her dream was to build bridges between the Muslim and Christian communities, he said. Mohebi said her family was in shock.
"One of her dreams was to work and to bring an understanding between the Christians and the Muslims in the community," Mohebi said. An outpouring of support to find justice for Alawadi came through social media channels.
The "One Million Hijabs For Shaima Alawadi" Facebook page was created to "spread love and light and show the family of Shaima that ... they are loved and their pain is our pain, their mother is our mother, their wife is our wife. She could be your sister, your friend, your neighbor. Only words of love will honor her life and make her death have a higher meaning."
-City News Service with additions by Santee Patch