Shafia family had few answers after four vanished

Confronted by a police officer with the suggestion that the deaths of her three daughters was not an accident, Tooba Mohammad Yahya (inset) appeared devoid of emotion. “Meaning what?” she responded, through an interpreter, in an interview recorded just hours after police had told her that the teenage girls had been found in a submerged car. “It would mean that something happened to cause it,” Det. Const. Geoff Dempster says, in the video played to jurors Tuesday morning at the trial of the Montreal woman, her husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their 20-year-old son Hamed, who are accused of murdering four family members in an honour killing.

Screen grab from a video of an interview by Kingston police officer Geoff Dempster June 30, 2009 with Tooba Mohammad Yahya

The trio was interviewed by police on June 30, 2009, as officers struggled to understand how the family’s Nissan Sentra, carrying four people, ended up at the bottom of the Rideau Canal. Dempster pressed the woman, telling her that he believed that the family was not being truthful.
“I can’t say something that I don’t know; I can’t tell a lie,” she said, near the end of a calm, hour-long interview.
The mother speculated that her daughter took the family car for a joyride, without permission because she wanted to drive, though she had no licence.
“She desired a lot,” she told Dempster. “I think she thought, ‘My mom and dad are asleep, let’s go for a drive. ’ ”
The trio now accused of murder had appeared at the police station around 12:30 p.m. on June 30 and reported that four family members and the Sentra were missing. Before they were interviewed by officers, they were told that the sunken car had been found and the family members likely were dead inside it. In their interviews, the three told slight variations on the same story.
They said that the 10-member family was driving home to Montreal from a vacation in Niagara Falls and decided to stop at a motel in Kingston because they were tired. They checked into two rooms at around 1 a.m. Hamed left immediately to drive home to Montreal, while the eldest daughter asked for the keys to the Sentra, ostensibly to retrieve clothes.
In the morning, the Sentra and four family members were missing.
Dempster asked the mother if she was at the isolated canal property when the car plunged into the water.
“No, no, I wasn’t there,” she replied.
She said she did not see her daughter drive off after giving her the car keys.
“If I knew [what happened] I would tell you everything,” she said. “I just know that she took the keys from me and … I was very tired and I went to bed.”
Jurors also watched Dempster press Hamed Shafia to explain his decision to drive back to Montreal alone at 2 a.m. after the family had just arrived in Kingston from a long evening of driving.
The young man said he had business to do and he wanted to retrieve a laptop from the family’s St. Leonard home.
In the second interview, Dempster confronted him about hiding an accident he reported to Montreal police around 8 a.m. that morning. Shafia called police to report a collision with a guardrail in a parking lot on Langelier Boulevard, blocks from the family’s home.
“Why are you hiding that information from me, Hamed?” Dempster asked.
“If I would tell you, you would go tell my dad, that’s uh, that’s the thing,” Shafia answered.
Prosecutors allege that Hamed staged the collision in Montreal to conceal damage to the Lexus that it suffered when it was used to push the Sentra over a stone ledge into the canal. Police found the Lexus in the family’s garage on July 1, with damage to its front driver’s side corner.
Hamed told Dempster that after he drove to Montreal that morning, he got a call from his father to tell him about the missing family members so he drove back to Kingston in the family’s minivan.
He said he took that car because it was better on gas.
Dempster told Hamed he didn’t believe he was telling him the whole story.
“I’m telling the truth here,” Hamed replied. “I seriously don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The bodies of Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found inside the sunken Sentra. Rona was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan. The family moved to Canada in 2007.
Dempster suggested Hamed was driving the Lexus and followed his sister when she drove off in the Sentra.
“If I would have witnessed something or caused it, I wouldn’t keep quiet,” Hamed told Dempster.
Jurors also watched the first few minutes of a six-hour videotaped interrogation of the accused mother that was recorded the day she was arrested, July 22, 2009. It will be completed Wednesday.

(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)

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