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Two honor roll students fatally shot in Maryland on eve of high school graduation

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/06/2017 Dan Morse, Donna St. George, Victoria St. Martin
Miza Saleh stands with her daughter, Nora Alshareef, 20, as they are asked about two Northwest High School students who were killed Monday night. © Matt McClain/The Washington Post Miza Saleh stands with her daughter, Nora Alshareef, 20, as they are asked about two Northwest High School students who were killed Monday night.

The family of Artem S. Ziberov was hours away from one joyous milestone and only days away from a second.

Ziberov, an honors student headed to college to study international relations, was set to graduate Tuesday with his classmate, Shadi Adi Najjar, 17, and the rest of the seniors of Northwest High School in Germantown, Md.

To be sure the full Ziberov clan could share the moment as he walked in cap and gown, his mother sent a link in advance for the live-feed broadcast to relatives in Moscow.

Graduation done, Ziberov on Thursday would turn 19.

But mourning displaced joy for his family and a larger suburban Maryland community was in shock after Ziberov and Najjar were killed Monday night in a fusillade of more than 22 shots fired as they sat in a car in a cul-de-sac in Montgomery Village.

Police called to the scene shortly before 11 p.m. found them dead in a parked and still-running Honda, Najjar at the wheel.

Instead of thinking about ­Ziberov’s future, the family is “stuck in the night before,” his mother, Yulia Tewelow, said.

Montgomery County police had made no arrest and released few details of the shootings as of early Tuesday evening.

The two teens had been at ­Ziberov’s home Monday before saying they were leaving to meet friends, Ziberov’s mother said. ­Ziberov had also talked about selling extra tickets he had to the commencement, she said.

When it was after 10 p.m. and her son wasn’t home, she called him.

“He was already dead,” his mother said, based on what police found when they arrived. A home surveillance system from a nearby house captured the sound of gunfire that popped for only seconds.

“It’s just hard to fathom what happened,” said the resident, Gordon Gipe, who turned over the audio to police. He happened to be up at 10:30 Monday night and at first mistook the noise for fireworks.

Adi Najjar holds the cap and gown of his only child, Shadi Adi Najjar, 17 © Dan Morse Adi Najjar holds the cap and gown of his only child, Shadi Adi Najjar, 17

Under blue skies, the graduating class of Northwest gathered at DAR Constitution Hall in downtown Washington as friends of the two teens recalled them amid tears and some speakers referred to the 517 graduates — a count that would include Ziberov and Najjar.

Najjar, who lived on Breezedale Lane in Germantown, was known as a bright student who challenged himself with calculus and a philosophy class at Montgomery College, where he planned on enrolling with an interest in the medical field.

Ziberov, 18, of Flag Harbor Drive in Germantown, had a dry sense of humor, was fluent in three languages and was learning a fourth, Japanese. He was headed to the University of Maryland at College Park.

Their homes are about seven miles from the place where they were shot.

Najjar’s father, Adi Najjar, had sent his son increasingly worried texts Monday night. He cradled his phone with the messages in his hand Tuesday.

Starting shortly before 2 a.m., he asked: “Where are you?” followed by “It’s 2 o clock” and then, “You disappear and you don’t text.”

Finally, the father messaged “Are you ok” and “Where are you,” repeating that series twice and getting no response.

The couple’s only child had hugged his mother before he left Monday night. “I’m going out to enjoy myself,” he said.

His father texted him and then went early for 4:30 a.m. prayers, only to get a call from his wife saying police were at the house and to come home.

“I’ve been crying all day. I have no tears left,” his father said.

Northwest’s principal, Jimmy D’Andrea, told graduates Najjar was the type to “lean over to help a classmate,” and Ziberov signed his schoolwork “the one and only Artem.”

Their deaths, D’Andrea said, “weigh heavy on our hearts.” Later, he said, “I think it’s impossible to make sense of what occurred last night.”

Samyukda Babu, in cap, gown and cords, leaned into the embrace of her fellow graduates. She wept at the loss of a friend she said always made her laugh: Artem Ziberov.

“None of this was meant to be,” Babu, 17, said. “He was supposed to be here with us today.”

Babu and Ziberov had been close friends for three years. They met in classes and found out they shared birthdays. “He was so nice and funny and outgoing and always making people laugh,” she said.

Students gather prior to the graduation of Northwest High School at DAR Constitution Hall on Tuesday. © Matt McClain/The Washington Post Students gather prior to the graduation of Northwest High School at DAR Constitution Hall on Tuesday.

Najjar was recalled similarly outside the graduation hall.

Steps from the huddles of smiling teenagers posing for selfies, Nora Alshareef stood stoically beside her mom, Miza Saleh, who clutched a handful of brightly colored balloons.

Alshareef, who graduated from Northwest High in 2014, said Najjar was her brother’s best friend. As she waited for the graduation procession to begin, she wiped tears from behind dark-rimmed glasses.

“He was the sweetest person ever,” she said.

Ziberov was an AP scholar with honors, a National Honor Society member and a President’s Education Award recipient. Naj­jar was listed as an AP scholar in the graduation booklet.

A longtime Boy Scout, Ziberov earned the rank of Eagle in December 2015 with Boy Scout Troop 489, said the troop’s scoutmaster, Karl Moline.

Moline described him as quiet and studious, helpful, very friendly — quick to teach younger scouts or to pitch in with whatever needed to be done. In 2014, Ziberov was elected senior patrol leader, the top youth leadership position in the troop.

Northwest High School in Germantown, Maryland (Photo by Victoria St. Martin/TWP) © Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Northwest High School in Germantown, Maryland (Photo by Victoria St. Martin/TWP)

Babu said Ziberov was known to be spontaneous. One year he baked her a cake in the shape of a dog, in honor of their shared love of pets. Babu reciprocated by baking him cookies. She said she had been thinking about what to give Ziberov on their birthday this year. Now she will celebrate without him.

Natashia Cosley, of Germantown, said her son, who was a friend of Ziberov, found out about his death late Tuesday morning as he was getting ready for graduation. “It’s a bittersweet moment,” Cosley said. “I told my son to wear his cap and gown proudly to honor them.”

Cosley said the tragedy had been on their minds all day. As they waited for their train into the city, her son, John Thompson, 17, recalled a time Ziberov lent him his jacket when he was cold. “He was literally someone who would give you the clothes off his back,” Cosley said. “These were normal kids,” playing basketball, “going to the mall, looking for girls.”

Ziberov’s mother said her son liked to read and would study for several hours a day. When he wasn’t studying, he enjoyed snowboarding and ordering parts for his computer online. His family said Ziberov and Najjar were planning a trip to Ocean City after graduation.

“It’s a remarkable day where the whole future is ahead of you, and everything is in his hands,” his mother said. “He didn’t experience life yet. Why does God take such a young kid? . . . Nothing bad should have happened to him”

Students gather prior to the graduation of Northwest High School at DAR Constitution Hall on Tuesday in Washington. © Matt McClain/The Washington Post Students gather prior to the graduation of Northwest High School at DAR Constitution Hall on Tuesday in Washington.

Saad Abbasi, a good friend of Najjar, said Najjar was the nephew of Ammar Najjar, imam at the Islamic Society of Germantown. Shadi’s funeral will take place there Wednesday after noon prayers, about 1:30 p.m.

Abbasi, who frequents a mosque in Germantown and met Najjar at various religious gatherings, said, “I would say he fit the ideal personality of a good Muslim” in that “he kept a balance of self-development while at the same time worked to achieve the best in life.”

He described Najjar as having an “upbeat personality” and said that life around the mosques in the areas “will be different.”

Hannah Shraim, a friend and 2016 Northwest graduate, said Najjar was involved in the local Muslim community and was a member the Muslim Student Association at Northwest.

Merien Abou Ghazaleh, 17, met Najjar at a mosque five years ago. Although she lives relatively far away in Fairfax County, she said they quickly became best friends. On the day as he died, Najjar gave her his last ticket for graduation — but after his death, she said she could not bring herself to go.

“He was the goofiest person that I ever knew,” Ghazaleh said. “He always stood up for me when someone said something about me. He was like an older brother who cared for me. The way he passed is a way no one should. His friends and I will never give up until he gets the justice he deserves.”

Ghazaleh said Najjar excelled in math and English and in debate, and was particularly interested in politics. He showed up at protests and rallies in support of the people being bombed in Syria and the plight of the Palestinians.

In their last conversation, he talked about how excited he was to be headed to college, urged her to attend his graduation, and then planned for their families to get together to break the Ramadan fast. “No one hated Shadi,” Ghazaleh said. “Everyone loved him.”

The way he died, she said, “it doesn’t make any kind of sense to me.”

Peter Hermann, T. Rees Shapiro, Mandy McLaren and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.


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