Community mourns 'brilliant student' Aya Hachem as five charged with murder

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent
Photograph: Lancashire police/PA

The family of a “remarkable and inspirational” law student killed in a botched drive-by shooting have said their only comfort is that she died during the holy month of Ramadan, as tributes flowed in for a teenager whose “whole ethos was to commit everything to this country”.

Aya Hachem, 19, was fatally shot from a passing car as she shopped for groceries near her home in Blackburn on Sunday afternoon. She was not the intended victim, police said.

On Friday evening, Lancashire police announced that four men and one woman – Feroz Suleman, 39, Abubakir Satia, 31, Uthman Satia, 28, and Kashif Manzoor, 24, all from Blackburn, and 26-year-old Judy Chapman from Great Harwood – had been charged with her murder. All those charged are due to appear before magistrates in Preston on Saturday.

Her death has triggered waves of pain, grief and revulsion far from the street where she was killed. An Islamic funeral prayer, a Janaazah, was performed near the scene on Thursday morning and white flowers spelling “Aya” arranged beside her coffin. A sea of carnations decorate the pavement where she fell.

The brutal nature of her murder – and the extraordinary story of her life – has compounded the shock felt in Blackburn and beyond. On Friday, the dean of Manchester, Rogers Govender, led prayers for Hachem’s family during a virtual service to mark the anniversary of the Manchester Arena bomb.

In a week when the Hachem family should have been celebrating Eid, they were “very, very distraught” and unable to speak publicly about their loss, friends said.

“The only comfort they have got is the fact that their daughter died during the holy month of Ramadan,” said Shanaz Hussain, associate headteacher at Blackburn central high school, where Hachem excelled. The family have told their imam that Ramadan was giving them some “peace and tranquility that their daughter died during the most blessed time of the year for Muslims”, she said.

Hachem was the eldest of four siblings. She arrived in Britain from Lebanon aged nine speaking “very, very limited English – probably like ‘Hello’”, her former headteacher, Diane Atkinson, said. But Hachem went on to become a star pupil and a role model for the more than 700 students at Blackburn central high school, many of whom come from similar backgrounds.

In her final year, Hachem was named “most improved student” of the 180 pupils in the group. She was charming, always smiling and humble, her teachers said, and was regularly used as a positive example to younger children and their parents.

Aged 16, Hachem became one of the youngest trustees in the history of the Children’s Society and went on to study law at the University of Salford. She was in the second year of her degree, preparing for a placement starting in September, when she was shot dead outside a Lidl supermarket, a passerby caught in an apparent local feud.

Friends who knew Hachem said she had used her early experiences in Lebanon to help improve the lives of others. Her father, Ismael, is said to have moved the family to Britain after being shot in crossfire there.

“Lebanon was very, very difficult for her family,” said Hussain. “Her family were constantly under threat and they had lots of traumatic experiences. Part of her culture, her whole ethos, was to commit everything to this country, which the family did, and to give back as much as possible.”

From her early childhood Hachem “fostered a compassion, tolerance and promoted all the British values that we, as the United Kingdom, are very, very passionate about”, said Hussain. Her father was granted British citizenship last year, she said, and the family are thought to have celebrated at Blackburn town hall.

After leaving school for college, Hachem would often return to catch up with her former teachers. Her last visit was in autumn, Hussain said, to show around her 10-year-old sister who is due to start secondary school this September.

Thirteen people had been arrested in connection with her death, 10 on suspicion of murder. They include two women, aged 19 and 29, and nine men, aged 31 to 39, all but one from Blackburn.

As the police investigation continued, and a community sought to process Hachem’s death, her father shared a message from a family friend: “Our grieving is not over for you Aya,” it said. “We are so sorry as a community to have destroyed your dreams and the beautiful visions that your family had. We are sorry Aya, please forgive us.”