Sally Krutzig, News Editor
Six years ago, two young women were murdered within a few miles of the University of Dallas. This crime is still unresolved and continues to reverberate as a rare and gruesome incident of “honor killing” in the United States.
Authorities found the bodies of Amina Said, 18, and Sarah Said, 17, in a taxi just six miles from UD in Las Colinas at the Hotel Omni Mandalay. Based on a call Sarah made to 911 moments before her death, it is believed that her father, Yaser Said, was responsible for the deaths of his daughters. He disappeared after the murders. Federal and local authorities continue the search for him.
The case gained widespread coverage when it began to be suspected that it was an “honor killing” to avenge the family’s supposedly soiled honor after the girls began dating local boys.
Now, a new documentary, “The Price of Honor,” hopes to shed light on this case and further the search for Said, who is still at large.
After discovering his daughters’ relationships, Said, an Egyptian-born taxi driver, reportedly threatened their lives repeatedly.
The girls then fled with their mother, Patricia Owens, to protect themselves, according to Owens’ aunt, Jill Abplanab.
Owens, Amina and Sarah stayed with Abplanab before moving on to Tulsa, Okla. Owens took the girls back to Texas just before her mother’s birthday, Abplanab said.
“She told them she wanted to put flowers on her mother’s grave and spend New Year’s Day with their aunt,” stated Abplanab.
The girls agreed to this plan. “Once they got down there, [Owens] told them she was going back to their daddy,” Abplanab said. “Amina was very upset. She was 18. She refused to go home. She would not go to where Yaser was at the house.”
Amina quickly went to her boyfriend’s house, while Owens and Sarah returned to the home they shared with Said. On New Year’s Day, Owens continued her attempt to convince Amina to return as well.
“The mother kept calling Amina and saying they were all going to go out to eat with Yaser’s brother for New Year’s and all that and that her dad forgave her.”
Owens ultimately went to the boyfriend’s house and was able to persuade her to come home, Abplanab said.
On the night of Jan. 1, 2008, Said put the girls in his taxi, supposedly to get something to eat. At 7:30 p.m., the Irving police received a 911 call from Sarah.
“Help,” she told the dispatcher, “My father shot me.”
She was, however, unable to give police a location. An hour later, the girls’ bodies were found in the taxi at the hotel. Amina, shot twice, died instantly, according to Star Local Media. Sarah, despite being shot nine times, was able to make the 911 call before dying. The directors of the movie believe they have found evidence suggesting that the shooting took place near the Elm Fork gun range in Dallas, before Said allegedly drove the bodies to the hotel and fled.
Abplanab wondered at Owens’ actions prior to the murder.
“She always let [Said] do what he wanted. She sat here and told me he would definitely kill them,” Abplanab said. “That time, when she finally went to Tulsa, I thought she was finally going to do right by the girls and keep them away from that situation.”
Said is currently on the FBI Most Wanted list. The last confirmed sighting of him was in Irving in 2008, according to the FBI website. Xoel Pamos, one of the directors of “The Price of Honor,” believes he is hiding in Dallas, but remains protected by a community that supports his actions.
“One of the things about honor violence, when you say honor killing, you have to be very careful,” Pamos said. “In domestic violence, society sees the abuser as the bad guy. When you go to honor violence, he is supported by the community, by his own family.”
The film documenting this story will hold its world premiere at the Lakewood Theater in Dallas at 6 p.m. on Sept. 7. Its directors, Pamos and Neena Nejad, have stated that new information on the case will be revealed, including a prior murder, a secret half-sister, Amina’s plan to protect her boyfriend and a discrediting of the theory that Said escaped to Egypt.
The film’s directors hope that “The Price of Honor” will renew interest in the case and help raise funds for a larger reward for tips leading to Said’s capture and conviction.
Within this tragedy, there was also a love story. Joseph Trotter, Amina’s boyfriend at the time of her death, has chosen to speak out about the murder for the first time in this movie.
“They were engaged to be married,” said Ruth Trotter, Joseph’s mother. “She was the love of his life. They had nothing and they had everything. Though we had Amina for a short time, they had a love that most people hope to have in their life.”
The documentary seeks not only to expose the Said case, but also to bring awareness to the practice of honor killing.
The AHA Foundation, a nonprofit women’s rights organization, defines honor violence as “a form of violence against women committed with the motive of protecting or regaining the honor of the perpetrator, family, or community. Victims of honor violence are targeted because their actual or perceived behavior is deemed to be shameful or to violate cultural or religious norms.”
Though authorities have yet to confirm a motive, the filmmakers and others who have studied the case believe this murder to be a case of honor killing. Members of Owens’ family publicly speculated that honor was his motive.
Said was a native of Egypt, a country with a history of honor violence. According to a study by The Association of Legal Aid for Women (CWELA), an Egyptian based nongovernmental organization, 42 percent of gender-based violent crime in Egypt is honor crime.
“Egyptian films represent honour killing as part of highly valued and well respected tradition. Family honour is shown as dependent on the sexual conformity of its female family members,” Fatma Khafegy of CWELA in a 2005 UN report. “[Egyptians] consider activists who condemn the practice as deviants from the religious principles and from good traditions and that they are only attempting to adopt a western agenda.”
“Article 17 of the Egyptian Penal code allows judges to decrease the sentences given in the case of murder when they decide that the condition of the murderer requires so,” she also noted. “Such reductions reach as little as six months that could also be spent during the trial. Therefore the murderer can escape being imprisoned and walks free.”
The UN estimates that honor violence kills 5000 victims annually.
The filmmakers and those who loved Amina and Sarah are hoping that “The Price of Honor” will help bring attention to the girls’ case and raise Americans’ awareness of the practice of honor violence.
“The last two years I saw nothing in the news, read nothing in the paper. But the father is still at large,” Trotter said. “We have to be their voice now and help bring justice.”