Aiia Maasarwe is an Israeli exchange student who was murdered in Australia while chatting with her sister on FaceTime, The Age reports.
Maasarwe, 21, was founded murdered near the La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus in the northeast Melbourne early Wednesday. Maasarwe, who was five months into a yearlong exchange at La Trobe, was riding home on a tram when she was ambushed around midnight.
“(Her sister) heard the sound of the phone falling to the ground and heard some voices,” Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper told The Age. “Nothing in the victim’s background indicates this was anyone known to her. So yes, unfortunately, the presumption at this stage is this was a random and opportunistic attack.”
Her body was found partially clothed with her phone and belongings lying nearby. Police have found a black baseball cap saying “1986” and a gray t-shirt they believe were worn by the attacker.
Melbourne is considered among the safest cities in the world, officials said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Aiia Maasarwe Was Studying Business After Previously Studying at Shanghai University
Maasarwe, 21, was in her fifth month of a yearlong exchange to La Trobe University in Melbourne, where she was studying business.
She previously studied Chinese and English at Shanghai University, The Age reported.
Maasarwe was originally from Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a majority Arab city in the Haifa district of Israel but had been living with one of her sisters in China.
Her social media profiles captured her travels around the world. “The best is yet to come,” her profile said.
“She’s positive, she likes to have fun, she’s a very friendly person you know. She’s a good sister,” her uncle, Rame Maasarwe, told The Age. “I was very proud of her, she was a very good person, a very loving person.
“She liked to discover new things, see new places. She traveled all over the world,” he said.
“I can’t believe that something like this has happened in Australia. It’s not safe there in Australia? In Melbourne? It’s not safe?” he asked. “We think America is dangerous, not Australia.”
2. Maasarwe Was Chatting With Her Sister on FaceTime When She Was Attacked
Police say Maasarwe was chatting on FaceTime with her sister when she was attacked.
“She was actually involved in a conversation with her sister overseas at the time the attack took place. Sadly her sister was talking to her and she appeared to fall to the ground and then she couldn’t contact her,” Detective Inspector Stamper told reporters. “Pretty much she heard the sound of the fall to the ground, some voices … at 10 past midnight on Wednesday night.”
Stamper said the attack was “random” and “absolutely horrific.”
Stamper did not say what weapon was used to kill Maasarwe.
3. Maasarwe Was Found Murdered & Partially Clothed
Maasarwe’s body was found partially clothed near the La Trobe campus at around 7 am. Her phone, sandals, water bottle, and book were found near her body. Police say they believe the killer took several items from her handbag.
Stamper said police don’t believe Maasarwe knew the attacker.
“Nothing in the victim’s background indicates this was anyone known to her. So yes, unfortunately, the presumption at this stage is this was a random and opportunistic attack,” he said.
He did not comment on Maasarwe’s injuries but said that known sex offenders in the area are an “active line of inquiry.”
“Someone in the community knows about this. Someone has gone home on Tuesday night, or in the early hours of Wednesday morning, maybe with blood on them, missing items of clothing. Somebody knows about this,” he said.
4. Police Recovered a Hat & Shirt They Believe The Attacker Wore
Police said a black baseball cap with the number “1986” and a two-tone gray t-shirt were found by police less than 100 meters from Maasarwe’s body. Police believe the clothing was worn by the attacker.
Police have dispatched an unprecedented number of investigators to the scene, The Age reported.
Acting Superintendent Tony Ryan told the outlet that the case had rocked his department.
“This is a very distressing matter, very distressing to the victims, the community and of course very distressing to the police,” he said. “That was the comment made to me by most of the young constables at the scene.”
Stamper said he believes the case will be solved quickly.
“I think the answer is in the community. Someone knows something about this and we need them to be accountable for actually delivering this person to us … so we can get them off the street,” he said.
Police released CCTV images showing Maasarwe leaving a comedy club before boarding the tram where she was attacked.
5. Family & Friends Are Remembering Maasarwe as ‘Full of Life’
Abed Katane, one of Maasarwe’s uncles, told Haaretz that his niece was “full of life.”
“It’s the kind of thing you never expect,” he said. “She was an excellent student, full of life, and was in a country that was not dangerous at all, to say the least. And despite that, we get this incredibly painful news.”
“She is the kindest girl. I’m so shocked. Some people couldn’t sleep last night, including me,” a classmate told The Age. “I found out yesterday evening. In that moment we all, all the students, we couldn’t accept it. We didn’t believe it. You know, she was an exceptional student.”
“She enjoys her life, she can do everything, she’s a positive person. She is happy every day, she is so kind,” he added.
The Israeli embassy issued a statement expressing condolences to the student’s family.
“We express our heartfelt condolences to Aiia’s family and stand ready to support them during this time as our consul works to return her body home to Israel for burial,” the statement said.
A La Trobe University spokeswoman said the school was “shocked and saddened by this appalling crime”.
“The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is of paramount importance and we are providing every possible support following this tragic incident,” she said. “We are encouraging all students and staff to use our range of safety and wellbeing services, including counseling.”