Sadness, questions in the wake of Jholie Moussa’s death

Moussa pics

Jholie Moussa lived in the Mount Zephyr area and attended Mount Vernon High School.

The murder of 16-year-old Jholie Moussa has left the Richmond Highway community in mourning, with many wondering: How could something like this happen?

Moussa’s body was found Friday morning in Woodlawn Park by police officers, less than a mile from her home. The Mount Vernon High School sophomore had been missing since the afternoon of Jan. 12, when she left her family’s townhouse on Sonia Court in the Mount Zephyr area.

Police announced Friday afternoon that they had found a body under leaves and brush around 11 a.m., after a tip led them to search the park. They publicly identified Moussa as the victim around 6:30 p.m., and said her case was being treated as a homicide.

The news was a horrific development in a case that authorities had characterized as a runaway until that point. It confirmed the worst fears of Moussa’s family and friends, who had insisted she was in danger and was not the type of person to run away from home.

“When I heard, my heart stopped beating for a second,” said Brencis Munoz, a junior at Mount Vernon who was friends with Jholie. “I’m still kind of heartbroken by all this.”

Jholie’s mom, Syreeta Hill, was not ready to speak about her daughter’s death, a family member said Saturday.

Sign and memorial

A mother and daughter from Maryland drove to Woodlawn Park on Saturday afternoon to set up a memorial site for Jholie Mousa.

Moussa’s friends described her as a typical teenager with an upbeat personality, someone who was happy, talkative, and always quick with a smile.

“She was a sweet girl,” said Munoz. “The first day I met her, she had a smile on her face. She liked to laugh. She was social with anyone. Very friendly.”

“Always had a beautiful smile on her face,” saidEnereidaGarcia, 18, a friend of Moussa’s who graduated from Mount Vernon in 2017. “[She]would brighten people’s day with her goofy personality.”

A family member announced on Facebook on Monday that a memorial service for Jholie will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at the New Life Open Bible Church in Springfield.

Questions remain

Little information has been released by the police since Jholie was identified Friday, and her immeadiate family has not spoken publicly yet. A police spokesman said Monday that more information would be forthcoming later today.

Moussa was reported missing by her family on Jan. 13, and investigators said in two separate statements that while they were continuing to search for her, there was no evidence to believe Moussa was in danger.

Moussa’s mother and friends sharply disagreed, saying that her disappearance was out of character and alarming. They said she had not previously run away, stayed in constant touch with family members, and did not take her cell phone charger or any clothes with her.

“Honestly, when police considered Jholie as a run away child, a lot of us got angry because we knew she wouldn’t have runaway,” Garcia said. “We knew she was in danger.”

Moussa’s twin sister and mother gave interviews to a local TV station describing the day Jholie disappeared. Her mother, who lives in Texas, believed her daughter may have gone to a party in Norfolk based on a SnapChat message sent by Jholie that evening. Her sister described to WUSA9 that Jholie had received a number of messages on her phone that afternoon while doing her hair, and said Jholie told her when she left the house that she’d be back “real quick.”

Moussa’s mother told Covering The Corridor that she missed a call from Jholie’s cell phone late on the night that she disappeared. When Jholie’s mom called her back, the call went straight to voicemail, and the phone was turned off from that point on.

Her father also told WUSA9 of a mysterious call from a neighborhood 12-year-old boy’s phone to Jholie Moussa’s phone the afternoon she disappeared. Cyrille Moussa said he asked the boy about the call, and the boy said that a man had asked to use his phone to make a call, according to WUSA9.

Many questions about the murder also remain unanswered, such as how long was Jholie Moussa’s body in the park and how she was killed. Police also have not elaborated on what led them to search the park again, or when the park was initially searched.

It is also not clear if the FBI, who announced they were helping the FCPD on Jan. 17, is still involved with the case. A spokesperson for the FBI did not immediately respond to a call seeking more information.

The uncertainty has fueled rumors and theories on social media, and has some worried that there’s a larger danger to the community.

Should we be afraid for our children?” said the parent of a Mount Vernon student who walks to school. “It’s scary … we’re getting so many different stories.”

More heartache for Mount Vernon

Moussa’s violent death is the latest tragedy to strike the close-knit Mount Vernon High School community. Samuel Kwarteng, a popular 2013 graduate known as “Sam K” to his friends and classmates, was shot to death last year in Richmond, where he attended college. His death was ruled accidental, and the 20-year-old who shot him was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Kwarteng’s death came on the heels of the passing of Amari Newton, a popular 2016 graduate of Mount Vernon, who died in a car crash in November of 2016 while she was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

On Friday, members of the Mount Vernon boys varsity basketball team were informed that the person found in the park was indeed Moussa shortly before tip-off of their home game against T.C. Williams. Jason Lewis, a senior on the team, said he and his teammates were in disbelief upon hearing the news.

“Everyone was just so shocked, like it wasn’t true or like it can’t be her,” Lewis said. “We all were just at a loss for words.”

Mount Vernon principal Anthony Terrell emailed parents and students Friday evening to inform them of Jholie’s passing, saying that schoolcounselors and an FCPS crisis response team would be on hand Tuesday when students returned to school.

“Understanding death, especially the death of a classmate, can be a very difficult experience,” Terrell wrote. “For that reason, we hope that you will listen to your son or daughter as well as discuss with them their feelings and reactions to this tragedy. Keep us informed if there are ways we can support you.”

Mount Vernon students plan to create a memorial for Jholie in front of the school and gather there on Tuesday morning, when class resumes following a teacher work day. Friends said they were especially concerned for Jholie’s twin sister, Zhane, who is also a student at Mount Vernon.

“We are a big family in that school [and] we care about each other,” Garcia said. “We have to help her sister … keep her head up and be strong, and keep her family in our prayers.”

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