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July 8, 2010

An American Honor Killing

natasha yousif

"When I heard about Noor, I was devastated. No one should have to go through what she did. I got a tattoo in her honor." —Natasha Yousif, a member of Noor's Facebook group

Photo Credit: Brent Humphreys

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It's unclear whether a wedding actually took place. Some friends say she only attended an engagement ceremony; others tell me they believe she did get married, albeit against her will. Still others say Noor was given a choice of five brothers, but her parents didn't like the one she chose, so the wedding was called off. Noor's parents, in police documents, maintain that a marriage did, in fact, occur. Whatever the case, Noor returned to Arizona a few months later without a husband, and moved back in with her family. She missed her younger siblings, friends say, and her parents needed help caring for them.

The Almaleki home is located in a Phoenix subdivision called Paradise Views. It's a comfortable-looking place that suggests the family was at least making a go of the more tangible aspects of the American dream. Although unemployed at the time of the parking-lot incident, and with a purported gambling habit, Noor's father had previously found work as a truck driver. Noor's mother had been hired by a company in California to help prepare American soldiers for cultural differences they would face in the Middle East — an incongruous career path, given her struggle at home to perform such a role in her own daughter's life. On the day I visit, the blinds are drawn. It's a Sunday and the neighborhood is silent. Palm trees and fuchsia flowers line the streets; in the distance, blue-gray mountains loom.

In the months after Noor's return from Iraq, the mood in the Almaleki household was heavy with tension. Noor dutifully looked after her siblings and completed the schoolwork necessary for her high school diploma, but by May 2008, the family was in full crisis. Noor's father had found a photo of her with male friends on MySpace, and he didn't like it. The situation became so heated that she started talking about moving out. One day, when Noor took the family car to visit a cousin, her father reported it stolen. When she learned what he'd done, she left the car on the side of the road and walked away. According to police records, her father wanted to file criminal charges against Noor to "teach her a lesson," telling police she was "disgracing the family" and that it didn't "look good" that she was moving out. Eventually she did move in with a friend. But after repeated run-ins with her father, and after learning that her mother was casting "spells" on her host family, she gave up and returned home.

Noor's 20th birthday, in February 2009, became a breaking point. After another family fight — this one in the middle of the night — she phoned a friend to come and get her. The friend, who asked not to be identified, describes a tumultuous scene: Noor came running out the door wearing her pajamas and carrying a purse — and, oddly, a roll of gift wrap. As her father chased her across the lawn, Noor jumped into the backseat, and the friend raced away.

A few minutes later, the girls met up with another friend in the parking lot of the local Westgate Mall. There, all three in their pajamas, they leaned against their cars and burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation. "I asked her what was up with that gift wrap," Noor's friend recalls. "She laughed and said, 'I don't know. I just had it in my hand!'" That night, Noor moved in with the friend who had picked her up, ultimately enlisting the police to protect her as she retrieved her things from the family home. "She loved that," her friend tells me. "The police helped her out."

And in the spring of 2009, Noor got her own apartment. Her friends helped her furnish it with a new mirror and a cloudy TV they found on Craigslist for $25. The next few weeks brought happier times. "We rented videos at midnight wearing zit cream," one of her friends tells me, smiling. "We drank more Mocha Joes from Burger King than water." To pay the rent, Noor worked at a local Chipotle; she'd also begun attending Glendale Community College.

I meet Noor's close friend Adhikar Dhakal at that same Chipotle. A thoughtful, handsome student at Arizona State University, Adhikar reminisces about how Noor hated the brown cap she had to wear as an employee at the restaurant. He smiles at the memory. Noor worked hard to support herself, he says, noting that she sent photos to a couple talent agencies to try to earn money, possibly as an extra on a movie set— but not, as the local press reported, to become a model. He calls Noor "the most perfect person" he has ever known.

When Noor's parents learned where she was working, they started showing up and insisting that she move back home, so she got a job across town, as a hostess at Applebee's. They turned up there too, leaving her no choice but to abandon that job as well. With no source of income, she was forced to return home once more.

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