Editor’s update: On 26 August 2020, Yaser Abdel Said was arrested by the FBI and US authorities in North Texas. The article’s contents below have not been updated to reflect this. To read more about the arrest, click here.
“Oh my God, I’m dying,” were 17-year-old Sarah Said’s last words, recorded in a harrowing 911 call released by Irving Police in Texas, United States of America.
After a series of death threats and allegations of physical and sexual abuse, on New Year’s Day in 2008, Sarah Said and her sister Amina Said were found brutally murdered in their father’s taxi in Texas.
Twelve years later, Egyptian-born Yaser Abdel Said, the main suspect in the double homicide, remains a free man, nowhere to be found.
However, a social media campaign shedding light on the crime aims to mobilize the Egyptian public in the search for Sarah and Amina’s killer, who is believed to be in Egypt.
Started by women’s rights activist Merhan Keller, the social media campaign ‘Amina and Sarah’ (أمينة وسارة) has re-ignited hopes that Yaser will finally face justice.
Why Egyptians should care about a crime in America that happened 12 years ago
At the same time as attention on violence against women was causing waves in Egypt, Keller came across Sarah and Amina’s case. Keller, who is working at the Women’s Rights Organisation in San Francisco that reviews old cases of women who have been subjected to domestic violence, was provided with the case file by her colleagues.
“My colleagues gave me the case file of the murder of Amina and Sarah because the girls and their killer are Egyptian. They thought that I would have more intel because I am Egyptian too and that I will have more information about Egypt and the right channels to contact,” Keller said to Egyptian Streets.
“When I saw the faces of Amina and Sarah I just felt angry and I really wanted to bring them justice and bring peace to the family, especially right now with the movement in Egypt against sexual and domestic violence.”
Now, the women’s rights organisation she works with, along with family members and friends of the victims and their attorneys, are working to finally locate Yaser and ensure he faces justice.
Yaser is currently on the FBI’s 10 most wanted fugitives list, with a USD 100,000 reward for any information leading to his arrest.
But what can Egyptians do about a crime that happened in the United States? According to credible information received by Keller and US authorities, Yaser is thought to be hiding in Egypt, and not in the United States as previously believed.
“Someone called the FBI with a tip that he had seen someone driving a taxi in New York City who looks exactly like Yaser. However, after investigation, they confirmed that it was not him and that the killer had vanished,” Keller said to Egyptian Streets, referring to reports of Yaser’s sightings as recently as June 2019 in New York City.
As the campaign went viral, hope that Yaser will finally face justice for his alleged crimes returned.
“I knew deep in my heart that people in Egypt will help and they will care as much as I did when I saw the faces of Amina and Sarah. And I was right,” Keller said to Egyptian Streets.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support received and I wish Amina and Sarah were here today to feel that love. Egypt is heartbroken over those two girls,” she said, adding that since she started the social media campaign, those working on bringing Yaser to justice have already received numerous reports and sightings of Yaser in Egypt.
“I received four matching reports of sightings that have been handed over to authorities [in the US], so that they can start following up with authorities in Egypt for Yaser’s arrest and eventual extradition,” said Keller, who is not in a position to share exact details of these sightings out of concern that Yaser may escape.
“We also cannot provide him with any intel that would harm the case and delay his capture.”
Keller believes that with the help of the Egyptian people, it is only a matter of time until Yaser is arrested.
“People are searching for him on the streets of Egypt everywhere and he knows that it’s only a matter of time until he’s arrested and brought to justice, especially given there is a $100,000 reward for anyone who can provide information that leads to his immediate capture.”
American and Egyptian Authorities did not cooperate earlier, and it is unclear how or when Yaser may have fled the United States to Egypt.
“The [local] police handed over the case to the FBI after they failed to capture him. Then, the FBI continued the investigation within the United States. Unfortunately, the procedure had some faults and an official request had not been made to the Egyptian authorities, despite his information being uploaded on the FBI’s most wanted list as well as Interpol’s website,” Keller explained when asked about whether Egyptian authorities were contacted by their American counterparts.
“However, everything is getting put together right now and collaboration between American and Egyptian authorities is currently in the works.”
Who is Yaser Abdel Said?
Born in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Yaser moved to the United States in 1983 on a student visa, where he met his future wife, and the key to his permanent residency in the United States, Patricia “Tissie” Said.
Patricia met the Yaser family at 14 and married the 30-year-old at the age of 16.
“I don’t think it was love, I think it was just we were so poor I just wanted to get out of the house,” Patricia said in an interview in ‘The Price of Honor’, a 2014 documentary about Sara and Amina, directed by Neena Nejad and Xoel Pamos.
According to Patricia, Yaser beat her, and his abusive tendencies came to light early in their marriage. She describes one incident of many, where he sliced her leg open with a knife for refusing to have sex with him.
Patricia had her first child, Islam, at 16, shortly after she married Yaser. One year later, the couple had Amina, and the year after that, Sarah was born.
Amina was nine and Sarah was eight when they first told their grandmother that their father was abusing them sexually, according to statements made to the authorities, which were shared in the documentary.
In separate police interviews, Amina and Sarah recounted the gruesome details of their father’s molestation, with both girls explicitly stating they were afraid of him and afraid he would hit them. Sarah went on to express her fears of his family.
“[She stated] that she is afraid of her dad and his brothers. That she is scared they will take her,” according to the report, obtained by the filmmakers.
The girls were medically examined and although no physical evidence of the multi-year abuse was found, the report stated that the “exam does not rule out sexual abuse”.
Their father was indicted for the sexual penetration of his daughters, and, enraged by the formal accusation, he allegedly threatened his wife’s family through obsessive phone calls, according to Patricia’s sisters.
Around the same time, repeat offender Yaser was arrested on a different charge, ‘officer retaliation’, after being confronted over a traffic violation.
After he was released on bond, the investigation into allegations he molested his two daughters was dropped, as the girls later claimed they had lied so that they could live with their grandmother.
“They made the girls say that it didn’t happen to keep him out of jail,” their aunt, Jill Abplanalp, previously Owens, told Nejad.
According to their other aunt, Connie Moggio, née Owens, Amina wrote her a letter saying that they were made to lie.
“Amina had wrote me a letter saying that, you know, mom wants us to say that, you know, my dad didn’t sexually abuse us and tell social services that it never happened, and in the letter she said ‘I don’t want to go back, please don’t make us go back’,” Connie said, in the same series of interviews.
She contacted child protective services who approached Patricia about the letter, and shortly afterwards the letter disappeared. Patricia denies the existence of the letter.
“Honestly, I don’t think Yaser would abuse his daughters,” she said in the ‘Price of Honor’ documentary.
“She’s In Trouble”
In multiple home videos of the girls filmed by Yaser, which are now public and circulating online, the frame is focused on different parts of their bodies, such as their chest area and their legs, and their discomfort is clear.
“This is illegal, do I videotape you when you’re sleeping?” Amina said to her father in one tape dated December 29, 2003, as she protectively wrapped herself in a blanket.
In the same video, he comments on Amina’s legs, which she quickly covers up. Yaser then asks Islam to remove Sarah’s cover, which he does, and Yaser zooms the camera on her bottom.
In another video, Yaser records Sarah from the inside of his car, outside her place of work as a cashier.
“She smiled at the customer,” he is heard saying.
“Baba, she has to. Part of her job,” Amina replied.
“She’s in trouble,” said Yaser.
Things took a darker turn when Yaser came across a love letter written by Amina to her boyfriend, Jacob Trotter.
Jacob and Amina had met in a martial arts class and fell in love.
“It was a puppy love, in the sense that it was innocent and sweet and went no further than a flurry of passed notes, some fugitive hand-holding, and an occasional stolen kiss. But that doesn’t do justice to how deep it became,” Jacob told Business Insider. They were together for four years, until the murders, and had plans to spend their future together.
Amina denied her boyfriend’s existence, fearful over his life, and claimed it was written to an imaginary boyfriend.
“She told us all the time that her dad would kill her,” said Ruth Trotter, Jacob’s mother, in her interview.
The day after the love letter’s discovery, the family vanished, and the girls’ whereabouts were a mystery for months, until it was later revealed through emails sent by Amina that Yaser had secretly bought a house in Lewisville, on the other side of Dallas.
Yaser’s abuse did not stop. In a series of emails written to Ruth, Amina complains about her father’s intention of marrying her off, at 16, to a 47-year-old man in Egypt.
“I don’t wanna marry a stranger, I can’t do it,” she wrote, as revealed in ‘The Price of Honor’.
“She told me that he wanted her to give the information of my son’s whereabouts, because he wanted to go after my son. And then she said he wanted to kill him,” Ruth said in the documentary.
Amina told Ruth that she revealed nothing, and then described an incident where “her father had beat her where you couldn’t tell all her braces from her lips.”
“He kicks me in the stomach…and he kicked me in the face with his boots,” wrote Amina.
After a suicide attempt, Amina refused to disclose details of her abuse to counsellors, motivated by a fear of her minor status. She explained to Ruth that her being a minor meant that anything she says will be disclosed to her parents, ultimately making things worse for her at home.
In December of 2007, the girls, now 16 and 17 years of age, fled to Oklahoma with two of their friends, and took their mother with them.
However, Patricia went back to Yaser after his incessant calls and pleads, and she brought Sarah with her, according to her sisters.
Despite her panic and refusal, Amina succumbed to Patricia’s pleas, and went back on the first of January 2008, Connie told Nejad and Pamos.
Patricia denied pressuring Amina, claiming Amina asked her to pick her up, despite phone records indicating at least eight phone calls in the span of two hours, on the morning of the murder, according to the records obtained by Nejad.
When both of the girls returned, Yaser took them out for dinner, claiming he wanted to speak to them alone.
Except there was no dinner.
In the car, Yaser allegedly shot his daughters 11 times, before fleeing the scene.
Contrary to what the Dispatcher Training Manual instructs, the 911 operator who received Sarah’s phone call informing him that she had been shot by her father and was dying, placed her on hold several times in order to transfer her call to the Irving Fire Department.
The manual states: “The most effective tactic is asking short, specific questions…The questions should obtain relevant information and should maintain a ‘flow’ free of interruptions. If you pause too long or become sidetracked with other duties, control of the conversation will end and you will have to re-establish it.”
The recordings revealed that Sarah was being attacked, screaming “oh my God,” and the car door could be heard slamming, as the dispatcher was attempting to transfer her to the Irving Fire Department.
Police had a difficult time finding the crime scene, and although the line with Sarah’s phone remained open with police for 42 minutes, she died on the call.
The girls’ bodies were discovered inside the yellow cab, which was parked at a hotel parking lot, by a passerby who phoned the police one hour after Sarah’s call for help, according to ABC News.
After the Murder
Following the murder, Yaser simply vanished without a trace. Both local police and the FBI have been unable to locate him in the United States of America, despite a number of reported sightings.
It is unclear whether Yaser received any help or made contact with anyone after the murders. However, phone bills obtained and shared by the filmmakers prove that at least two of Yaser’s brothers were in contact with him after the murders. Meanwhile, Patricia claims that her last contact with Yaser was before the murders, but her phone bills, also obtained and shared in ‘The Price of Honor’ documentary, indicate otherwise.
Now, 12 years later, Amina and Sarah’s family, along with lawyers and authorities, are hopeful that reports of Yaser’s whereabouts in Egypt are true and that he will be captured and extradited to the United States.
“The family never lost hope and every year they reach out to different organisations and entities trying to get justice for the girls,” said Keller to Egyptian Streets when asked whether family and friends are optimistic about Yaser’s arrest.
“I am extremely hopeful because I believe that nothing lasts forever and no one can remain hidden….if Yaser is captured, it will be the greatest thing to happen in 2020 for me.”
Even if Yaser is not found and captured, Keller believes the social media campaign shedding light on the case has been significant.
“God forbid, if he is not captured, at least the girls got a lot of love and support that they never had when they were alive. Everyone in Egypt was praying for them and seeking justice on their behalf and that warms my heart,” added Keller.
“They were never loved by that monster and they never had one peaceful day until he decided to take their life. Two bright young women, excellent students and great friends. I wanted to give them love. They deserved it.”
Any victims of sexual crimes or domestic abuse in Egypt needing support or willing to come forward to expose their abusers can contact the National Council for Women at 15115 for assistance.