Slain Iranian Student Activist's Family Pleads for Public's Help

By CHRISTINA NG
ABC News
Slain Iranian Student Activist's Family Pleads for Public's Help
Slain Iranian Student Activist's Family Pleads for Public's Help (ABC News)

The family of a slain Texas medical student who was well-known as an Iranian activist is pleading for the community's help in solving her mysterious death.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh, 30, was driving through her Houston townhouse complex around midnight on Monday when she was shot dead through her car window, just yards away from her home.

At a news conference today, her emotional family asked for the public's help and mourned the loss of their daughter and sister.

"She's really loving and sweet-hearted," her brother Ali Bagherzadeh said. "I can't think of why anybody would hurt her because she is always being peaceful and just trying to bring peace to this community and society."

Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

"I'm her younger brother," Ali Bagherzadeh said. "We grew up together and she pretty much raised me because when we were kids, my mom used to be a teacher and she would always be out, and [Gelareh] would always watch out for me. "

Investigators also said that they were looking into a reported 2010 assault against Gelareh Bagherzadeh, but Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties said the case did not lead to any further information.

"That was investigated thoroughly and, at this point, it doesn't appear that there were any links," Senties told ABCNews.com. He also confirmed that Bagherzadeh was killed by a single gunshot wound.

Authorities reviewed surveillance footage today from one of the nearby townhouses, but the video was inconclusive.

"It does not appear to show anything that would be helpful in identifying a suspect or suspect's vehicle," Senties said. "We still have absolutely no leads on this and we still need the public's assistance.

Though the FBI is aware of the situation, they are not officially involved in the investigation, Houston FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap told ABCNews.com today.

"We are routinely sharing information with the Houston Police Department," Dunlap said. "It doesn't mean we're actually involved. Evidence that a federal law was potentially violated would have to be uncovered for the FBI to get involved."

Bagherzadeh's body was found in her car around 12:30 a.m. Monday when police responded to a report of a shooting in progress.

"When officers arrived, they found a vehicle had run into a garage door at that location with the engine running and tires spinning on the pavement. Ms. Bagherzadeh was found slumped over in the driver's seat," the Houston Police Department said in a statement.

Authorities said nothing appeared to have been stolen from her car. Her cell phone and purse were found inside.

"Homicide investigators responded to the scene and were told by witnesses that several gunshots were heard, a crash and then tires squealing," the statement said.

Police told ABC News' Houston affiliate KTRK that the last person to speak to Bagherzadeh was her close friend and ex-boyfriend who was on the phone with her when she was shot.

"[He] heard a loud thud. He doesn't recall hearing any gunshots, but a loud thud and then a screeching noise," Richard Bolton of the Houston Police Department Homicide unit told KTRK.

Bagherzadeh was of Iranian descent and was outspoken in promoting Iranian women's rights and criticizing the Iranian government, according to interviews she had done with the Houston Chronicle.


Texas Family Seeks Help Solving Murder of Iranian Activist

Photos and video from the newspaper's website show Bagherzadeh participating in a 2010 protest calling for a regime change in Iran. At the time, she requested that her name not be used in the video because she was afraid of persecution, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"It's not believed that she was targeted because of her ethnicity or because she was an activist," Senties told ABCNews.com.

Bagherzadeh was studying molecular genetic technology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center School of Health Professions.