Community responds after Muslim girl, 10, receives hateful letters at school
FRAMINGHAM — A 10-year-old Muslim girl is frightened after being called a terrorist and receiving a death threat in letters found in her cubby at school, and her family hopes “this doesn’t happen to any other child at this age,” her uncle said Wednesday.
“She’s scared,” said Jamaal Siddiqui, 29, the uncle of the fifth-grade student at Hemenway Elementary School, during a news conference across the street from Hemenway. “She has all the right to be scared.”
Though unsettled, Siddiqui said, his niece is “hanging in there. She’s a strong girl, but at the end of the day, she is a 10-year-old.”
Earlier, Framingham Public Schools officials and local faith leaders denounced the letters and said authorities are working to identify the perpetrator. The notes were discovered in the girl’s storage bin Friday and Monday.
“I honestly am heartbroken,” Hemenway principal Liz Simon said. “My staff is devastated that this happened at our school.”
Simon said she informed students Friday that the girl received a “very upsetting” note that said “you’re a terrorist.” The second letter discovered Monday said “I will kill you,” officials said.
Simon said Wednesday that she told students such actions are “unacceptable” and considered a hate crime. After explaining the meaning of a hate crime, Simon said, she asked students to write supportive notes to the girl indicating that they “stand against” such hatred.
The incident at Hemenway was the latest episode in a series of bigoted acts that have roiled schools and communities throughout the state in the past year, including in Reading, where two swastikas and a set of “threatening remarks impacting ‘white people’ ” were discovered at a local high school last week, officials have said. The Reading schools have seen about 30 cases of hateful graffiti targeting people of color, Jews, and the LGBTQ community since May 2017.
And on Tuesday, the FBI reported that hate crimes rose 9 percent in Massachusetts last year from 2016, and 17 percent nationwide.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Simon said the girl who received the threatening notes is a pleasure to have in school.
“She’s actually a wonderful student and well-liked by everyone,” Simon said, adding that the school prides itself on fostering an “inclusive, warm, caring community.”
The child also drew praise from Faiz Abrar of the Islamic Society of Framingham.
“She’s very nice, very kind, loving, just a regular 10-year-old girl,” Abrar said.
He commended her for returning to school with a “positive attitude” after receiving the hateful letters.
“She doesn’t want the bully or whoever did this to win,” Abrar said. “She doesn’t want to seem weak. She knows that what she stands for, what she believes in, is correct.”
Abrar said his mosque warns children they may face discrimination but urges them to embrace peace.
“We teach these kids all the time, you’ll face some of this hate, some of these negative things towards you,” Abrar said. “But always try to remember that peace and love always wins.”
Superintendent Robert Tremblay also spoke and said officials are still working to identify the perpetrator.
“There is absolutely no place for hate in our schools,” he said.
Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer was traveling Wednesday and unable to attend the news conference, but an aide read a statement on her behalf.
“Hatred and discrimination will not be tolerated in Framingham,” the statement said. “I am dismayed at this latest act of bigotry and will do everything to ensure the safety of our students and residents. As mayor, I take pride in our community. And with its vibrant diversity, we must all stand against injustice and speak against it at all times.”
The mayor’s words were echoed by the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Muslim civil rights group. In a statement, the organization urged anyone with information about the case to contact Framingham police. The group also invited the public to send supportive letters to the girl and her family to “counteract the hateful message.”
Letters can be sent to CAIR-MA, 123 South St., Suite 3, Boston, MA, 02111.
“No child deserves to feel afraid at school because of their faith,” said Sumaiya Zama, director of community advocacy and education for CAIR-MA. “Bigotry against any group of people, whether Muslim, Jewish, Latino, or African American, is a threat against all. Sadly, we receive these kinds of calls every week.”
Framingham police referred questions to school officials on Wednesday.
The day before, the girl’s aunt, Saleha Abrar, took to Facebook to condemn the hateful letters.
“It breaks my heart that my niece is going through this in 5th grade,” Abrar wrote. “Our religion teaches us peace, love and respect. We are taught to not even kill a fly, let alone trying to even think of hurting someone is out of this world. We WILL find out who is doing this and justice will be served.”
Globe Correspondents Jackson Cote, Jeremy C. Fox, and Andres Picon contributed to this report.