Israeli student was killed while on phone with sister | News Coverage from USA

Israeli student was killed while on phone with sister

A student studying abroad in Australia was on the phone with her sister overseas when she was killed in an “absolutely horrendous, horrific attack,” police said Thursday. 

Aiia Maasarwe, a 21-year-old from Israel, was walking home after getting off a tram when she was attacked just after midnight Wednesday in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora, police said at a news conference Thursday.

“Sadly, her sister was talking to her when the phone appeared to fall to the ground,” said Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper with Victoria Police. “She heard the sound of the phone falling to the ground, she heard some voices and that was it.”

Maasarwe’s sister tried reaching her again later before she contacted police, Stamper said. The student’s body was found around the same time Wednesday morning, the detective said.

In an interview with The Australian, Maasarwe’s sister Noor said her sister often called her while walking home at night. Maasarwe’s other sister, not Noor, was speaking with her on the night of the attack, per The Australian.

“To make her feel better, just to stay on the line with her, she has to make the phone call with me or with my other sister,” Noor told the Australian newspaper.

In a plea for help from the public, authorities on Thursday also released CCTV images of Maasarwe from the night of the attack as well as photos of a T-shirt and hat they recovered near the crime scene and believe belong to her attacker. 

Stamper said police are “desperate” for public help in identifying the clothing. “This is the key to solving this crime,” Stamper said. “Somebody in the community knows who did this.” 

Nothing in Maasarwe’s background shows that she would have known her attacker beforehand, Stamper said.

“Unfortunately, the presumption at this stage is that this was a random attack – and opportunistic,” the detective said. Stamper wouldn’t say whether police believe she was sexually assaulted.

Maasarwe was studying at La Trobe University, about 10 miles from Melbourne’s downtown. Police said she had been at a comedy club earlier in the night before the attack.

An increased police presence will be in the area until the suspect is caught, acting police superintendent Tony Ryan said.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe in their community,” John Dewar, the university’s vice chancellor said. “We will be doing everything we can to support the family and police throughout this investigation and afterwards.”

Maasarwe’ sister Noor said Aiia had “a pure soul” and “a lot of energy.”

“She’s funny. When you’re with friends, she’s always making jokes and everyone laughs. She’s a very fun person and everyone who knows her knows how good she is and how much of a good time you can have with her,” Noor told The Australian.

In 2017, The Economist ranked Melbourne as the world’s fifth-safest city. However, the country’s human rights commission also said in the same year that Australia “has a disturbingly high rate of violence against women.”

Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter, @RyanW_Miller.

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