The sudden death of a Muslim woman in a Staten Island park in New York City last month was officially ruled a homicide on Monday. Ola Salem, 25, was discovered partially covered by leaves, fully clothed, and unconscious in a wooded part of Bloomingdale Park on Oct. 24.
At the time of her death, a ruling could not be made due to a lack of signs of blunt-force trauma to her body. The only possible evidence of homicide was the track marks left behind, which made it look as if someone had dragged her to her resting place.
A month after the incident, New York City's Medical Examiner concluded her death to be a homicide caused by asphyxiation due to neck compression. However, no arrests have been made until this point.
A police source told the Staten Island Advance that it was very far-fetched that the death and murder of Salem were random and that they believed she was killed elsewhere and then dumped in Bloomingdale Park. The source also added that there are several leads being followed upon.
Salem was not only an advocate for women and children who suffered from domestic abuse, but also had no fear and no qualms about challenging authority, says her friend and president of Asiyah Women's Center Dania Darwish.
Before her death, she was a volunteer at Asiyah Women's Center, a private temporary shelter especially for Muslim women and families. She had sought refuge at the shelter herself prior to volunteering due to a turbulent marriage and an even rockier separation, with both her and her husband filing orders of protection against each other.
"She came to us with her problems but when she saw the other women she took the active role as volunteer, really connecting with them," said co-founder and director of Muslim Community Center Mohamed Bahe.
According to anti-abuse activists, it is not uncommon for both sides of a relationship to file an order of protection. The abuser sometimes does that as a precautionary measure against being caught, as well as to discredit the victim.
The New York Police Department backed up the alleged domestic abuse by mentioning the five times police officers were sent to Salem's house in the last year due to violations of an order of protection as well as criminal contempt. Some of Salem's neighbors have confessed to seeing police at her residence and claimed she even left the house in an ambulance once.
Asiyah Women's Center created a GoFundMe page in honor of Salem's life and death.
"She was a beacon of hope and positivity for many. We can still hear her infectious laughter emitting through our walls, and we are envisioning her presence with us," the page said.
Since Oct. 24, they have raised $16,200 of their $20,000 goal of charity money for the shelter in her name.