‘It’s just so sad’: Vigils held in Australia for murdered Israeli student

Arriving in Melbourne to retrieve body, Aiia Maasarwe’s father says he cried upon seeing impromptu memorial put up where she was found

People attend a vigil in memory of murdered Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne on January 18, 2019 (Allan LEE / AFP)
People attend a vigil in memory of murdered Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne on January 18, 2019 (Allan LEE / AFP)

Hundreds of Australians dressed in black gathered in Melbourne on the steps of Victorian state parliament late Friday for a silent vigil in memory of murdered Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe.

The 21-year-old was killed on the way home from a comedy show in Melbourne just after midnight Tuesday. Her body was found in bushes near a tram stop by passers-by several hours later on Wednesday morning.

“It’s a sad reason that we are here today,” one man attending the vigil told Channel Seven TV news. “To sit and stand in anger for what has happened.”

A woman holding back tears at the event said: “It’s just so sad, she seemed like such a lovely girl.”

Aiia Maasarwe pictured in a Melbourne cafe, October 1, 2018. (Instagram)

Attendees were later set to fill the 86 tram, which Maasarwe was believed to have ridden on her way home, with red roses that were reportedly her favorite flowers.

Maasarwe’s father, Saeed, on Friday visited the crime scene, where dozens of flowers and messages from the public have been left nearby in support.

“I feel very, very sad from one side, but from another side, when I get this support and this help — from the people, from the community, from the police — it makes the suffering to feel a little more better,” he told reporters.

“This is the last place my daughter… was here,” he added, breaking down in tears. “I want to be with her for more time, but someone decided I cannot be.”

Maasarwe was killed while she was speaking on the phone with her sister.

Police, who have described the attack as “horrific,” arrested a 20-year-old man in the outer suburbs of Melbourne on Friday in connection with the murder.

People attend a vigil in memory of murdered Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne on January 18, 2019. (Allan LEE / AFP)

“Homicide Squad detectives have arrested a man as part of the ongoing investigation into the death of Aiia Maasarwe,” Victoria Police said in a statement.

Police have withheld further details on the attack, which they assume was random and opportunistic.

Campaigners have called for an end to the “epidemic of violence against women” in the city.

Some of the vigil organizers were the ones who had arranged a similar tribute for Eurydice Dixon, a 22-year-old local comedian who was killed in a Melbourne park last year as she was going home.

A 20-year-old man sits in a police car, January 18, 2019, after he is arrested for questioning over the death of Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne, Australia (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)

“We’re as angry as we were last time,” organizer Jessamy Gleeson told Melbourne’s Herald Sun on Friday, adding that more needed to be done to keep women safe.

“We shouldn’t have these one-off vigils,” she added. “There needs to be continued engagement and conversation about violence against women.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter on Friday, calling the crime “an incredibly shocking, despicable and tragic attack.”

“My heart goes out to Aiia’s family and friends and everyone whose life she touched,” he said.

Morrison revealed that Maasarwe had been raped before her body was discarded.

“I just want to begin by saying how devastated I am by the despicable, tragic and violent killing and rape of Aiia Maasarwe,” he told reporters in Fiji. “Every woman in Australia — every person in Australia — should be able to travel home in safety. I can’t begin to think of what I could say to her family.”

“Tonight, on the steps of parliament, Victorians will gather to remember Aiia Maasarwe. Positive. Fun. ‘The kindest girl.’ A 21-year-old just making her way in the world, with her whole life ahead of her. A student on her way home after a comedy show with friends,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews tweeted before the vigil.

Police investigators work at the scene on January 16, 2019, where the body of Israeli student student Aiia Maasarwe was found in Melbourne, Australia. (Stefan Postles/AAP Image via AP)

Maasarwe was originally from Baqa al-Gharbiya in northern Israel, a predominantly Arab city.

She had been studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne as an exchange student from Shanghai University in China.

Her uncle Abed Kittani told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Maasarwe’s younger sister remained on the line after the attack.

“She heard the cars passing by and she was helpless, she couldn’t do anything,” Kittani said of the sister, who sent messages, but there was no response.

“Instead of coming home with a diploma, she is coming back in a coffin,” Kittani said.

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