By Patrick Donachie
A neighbor was arrested and charged this weekend in the Aug. 31 murder of a 60-year-old Muslim woman in Jamaica Hills, police said. The man, who admitted to fatally stabbing her, lived half a block from where the killing occurred, according to police.
The arrest came as religious and community leaders urged the authorities to consider the possibility that the attack was a hate crime, even though police were saying the suspect’s motive was robbery.
“We welcome the fact that a person has been arrested so quickly and are waiting to see what develops through the court process,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations. “We’re being told this was a robbery and that will need to be determined based on the facts presented at the trial.”
Yonatan Galvez-Marin, 22, was arrested Saturday and charged with murder in the second degree, attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Queens district attorney..
Galvez-Marin allegedly approached Nazma Khanam, 60, as she was walking home outside 160-12 Normal Road at 9:15 p.m. Aug. 31, according to police. He allegedly demanded money from Khanam, who was in Islamic dress, and when she refused, he stabbed her once in the chest and fled, police said.
Khanam was found after the attack by her husband, Shamul Alam Khan, 67, who had been walking in the same direction a short distance behind his wife. She was taken to Jamaica Hospital but was pronounced dead.
Afterwards, police released surveillance video of a man walking down Normal Road around the time of the attack, calling him a person of interest. According to NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, police continued to canvass the scene when they came across Galvez-Marin. Police said he lived on Normal Road about half a block from where the stabbing occurred.
Galvez-Marin accompanied officers to the 107th Precinct, and after questioning him Boyce said Galvez-Marin admitted to attempting to rob Khanam, and then stabbing her once in the chest. According to Boyce, Galvez-Marin worked as a “busboy or a messenger” at an unnamed Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, and police uncovered no prior criminal or emotional incidents with the suspect. Boyce said he had traveled to the United States from Colombia about a year ago.
The stabbing followed the shooting death of the imam of a South Ozone Park mosque last month, along with his associate. Oscar Morel, 35, of East New York, Brooklyn, was arrested and was in court to plead not guilty last week, but police have not yet uncovered a motive and he has not been charged with a hate crime.
A funeral service and community gathering was held for Khanam Friday outside of the Jamaica Muslim Center. A blue tarp was laid in the street so hundreds of mourners could kneel and pray in the punishing sunlight. Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), who represents the area, Public Advocate Letitia James and state Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens), attended the event along with community and religious leaders and family members of the slain woman.
According to Jamaica Muslim Center President Mohammad Rahman, Khan and Khanam emigrated from Bangladesh seven years ago. She was an educator and a mother of three. He defended the local Muslim community, saying they had helped to improve the area during the prior decades.
“We came here to build houses and establish businesses,” he said. “I would like to tell the evil people…we are here to stay. We are here to build this community.”
Khanam’s son and her nephew, NYPD Transit Officer Humayun Kabir, also spoke, telling the audience that Khanam’s body would be returned to Bangladesh for burial. Amidst impassioned cries and calls for “justice” from the assembled crowd, Khalid Latif, a chaplain for New York University and the NYPD, excoriated the media for ignoring Khanam’s religion in its reporting of the murder and said hate crimes were escalating due to Donald Trump’s rhetoric during his presidential campaign.
“This is direct increase in Islamophobia due to this presidential election,” he said. “Bigotry against Muslims will only be deemed unacceptable when people speak out about it.”
In Jamaica Hills, community members conducted a vigil Sunday at the spot where Khanam was killed, and Bangladeshi Muslim leaders from across the city were in attendance. Marin had been arrested the night before, and community members who called for a hate crime charge expressed anxiety about what they said was the increased threat of violence posed to Muslims.
Galvez-Marin was due back in court Friday.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona