An Iranian Christian student, gunned down while driving home in Houston, raises questions about whether foreign governments are to blame or if it was an honor killing because she converted to Christianity.
By Lomi Kriel
8/6/2012 Houston (Houston Chronicle) – It's a case seemingly straight from a Hollywood thriller: An outspoken, fiery and beautiful Iranian molecular genetics student is gunned down as she turns in to the affluent townhouse complex she shares with her parents on a quiet street near the Galleria.
Police say the assailant fired fewer than five bullets at close range through the glass of her passenger window on Jan. 15 in the 800 block of Augusta, sending Gelareh Bagherzadeh crashing into a building. Her iPhone and a wallet stuffed with credit cards were left untouched. The car belonged to her father, a renowned chemist embroiled in an ugly lawsuit over $20 million.
Six months later, the lack of answers in her case has propelled it into a sort of Kafkaesque nightmare where everyone and yet no one is a suspect, with family and friends questioning each tie and interaction Bagherzadeh once had.
The nature of the killing, and of the 30-year-old herself - who had spoken passionately against the Iranian government and in 2011 converted to Christianity - fueled widespread speculation about whether foreign governments are to blame, or if it was an honor killing. In Iran, Christian converts are often executed.
And though Crime Stoppers is offering its biggest reward ever in her case - $200,000 - "only a handful" of tips have come in, said Sgt. J.C. Padilla, the Houston Police Department's lead investigator. If they had a suspect to focus on, Padilla said they have "conclusive forensic evidence" to compare, "but we're just not quite ready to rule anybody out."
Parents moved away
The case has been complicated by the possible Iranian link and the close-knit nature of Houston's Iranian community. Many have been either afraid to talk or reluctant to disclose details they consider private or disrespectful. Meanwhile, Bagherzadeh's parents, who dreamed of starting anew in the U.S., have sold their Galleria home, which they bought for their daughter, and moved in with their eldest son in Maryland.