At around 8 p.m. on a cool, cloudy March night, 21-year-old Nafiah Ikram returned home to Long Island, New York, after completing a ten-hour shift at a nearby CVS pharmacy, where she was a technician. pharmaceutical.
She parked outside her house and her mother, who was in the passenger seat, ran inside to use the bathroom. Ikram took a little longer to collect food in the back seat.
It was then that her attacker attacked her.
A hooded man stepped out of the darkness, approached Ikram, and threw a large mug of battery acid in his face. Then he fled on foot. The acid burned one of Ikram’s contact lenses and stuck it to his eye. It sank down her throat when she screamed, burning her lungs. Her family believe her injuries would have killed her if her mother, who is a head nurse, hadn’t rushed her daughter to the bathroom and washed her down with water.
Over a month later, after spending several weeks in the hospital, Ikram still has painful burns and struggles to eat. Doctors say the March 17 attack may have permanently compromised his vision. No one was arrested.
And his family lives in fear, speculating who attacked Ikram, a student at Hofstra University. It was an act that seems to have been intentionally savage and calculated, that came out of nowhere.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” said Ikram, interviewed Thursday (22). “I think I won’t be able to figure out what happened until later, when I hope whoever did it or those responsible are arrested. But for now, I’m just trying to be okay.
His father, Sheikh Ikram, believes authorities should invest more resources in investigating the case. “We can’t relax,” he says. “We can’t even sit in the yard. We are extremely disturbed. “
Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder of the Nassau County Police Department called the attack outside Ikram’s home in Elmont, New York, an ethnically diverse suburb of 36,000 people 15 miles east of Manhattan, of “heinous and ferocious crime”. Part of the incident was captured on surveillance video, and police offered a reward of $ 10,000 (R $ 54,300) for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator or anyone else involved. .
But in response to questions about the investigation, police limited themselves to reiterating a statement weeks earlier describing the attack and the suspect, who allegedly wore gloves and a black sweatshirt.
The brutal and seemingly unprovoked attack on Ikram, who was born in the Bronx and of Pakistani descent, came as Asian Americans suffered hate attacks in New York City and across the country these days. last months. A March massacre in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent, and another this month in Indianapolis, where four of the eight victims were Sikhs, has fueled fears of the consequences fatal cases of xenophobia.
This week, the New York branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading civil rights organization, called for the attack on Ikram to be investigated as a hate crime.
But Ikram and his father, who emigrated from Pakistan to the United States 30 years ago, do not believe the attack was racially motivated, in part because it seemed the attacker had specifically waited to hit Ikram. , not his mother.
A police spokesperson said decisions on whether the attack will be investigated as a hate crime will be made after the arrest.
Acid attacks occur all over the world, but are particularly common in some countries, including Pakistan, India, the United Kingdom and Uganda, according to the London-based International Acid Survivors Foundation. The victims are mostly women, according to the organization, and acid, which can leave the victim disfigured for life, is traditionally considered the preferred weapon of avenging men who accuse women of disloyalty or disobedience.
“The fact that they aimed at my face shows that it’s personal, without a doubt,” Ikram said.
The attack on her started to gain more attention after TV presenter and author Padma Lakshmi went public on her Instagram page this week, asking for donations to help pay for the Ikram’s medical bills and information that could help police locate the assailant. Sheikh Ikram, 50, said he worked as a driver for Lakshmi.
“It’s any parent’s nightmare – for something like this to happen to their daughter, this promising and innocent young girl who has her whole life ahead of her,” Lakshmi said in an Instagram post. “I don’t know who in the world would do something like that, with acid, like that. I don’t even know where to find acid. I can’t stop thinking about her.
Ikram said his health has started to improve in recent weeks. She already manages to swallow mushy foods, but she still has trouble keeping it in her stomach.
Doctors expect their skin to recover, but believe their eyesight may not improve. The family, who have lived in Elmont for 15 years, are seeking consultations with experts who can help plan a path to Ikram’s recovery. Her father said his daughter was traumatized and afraid to go anywhere on her own.
Sheikh Ikram said a neighbor saw a red car with perhaps three people parked near her home before the attack. His wife had noticed the car parked at the site earlier, but had paid no attention.
He wonders why the police have yet to identify the people connected to the car or find out more about the whereabouts of the attackers, using surveillance videos or traffic cameras.
“I am living a nightmare,” Sheikh Ikram said. “I can’t concentrate on anything.” Your wife is not going to work because she has to take care of her daughter.
Ikram was forced to suspend his studies at Hofstra University. She said she wanted to be a doctor and work with children.
“I feel like I’m not myself now,” she said. “Everything I do somehow reminds me of what happened. And I’m trying hard – instead of being sad and wishing it didn’t happen, I try to think about the positives, even though there aren’t many of them right now.
She concluded: “What I can say at this point is that it could have been worse.”