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10/05/08

Police Rule Khalili Death a Suicide, but Others Aren't So Sure

Source: Iran Times

Police reports have ruled the May death of a Persian teen in Beverly Hills was a suicide, but many members of the Persian Jewish community remain suspicious.

On the night of May 26, Bianca Khalili, 17, a member of Beverly Hills' posh Persian Jewish community, died.  Despite a Los Angeles police investigation that found Khalili's death was self-inflicted, various stories of how the teen died still buzz around the community.

On the night of Khalili's death, the Beverly Hills High senior visited Dora Afrahim, a fellow member of the Persian Jewish community who lived in a glitzy Century City high-rise.  According to friends and family, the two girls-who met in high school-had been friends but the relationship soured sometime before Bianca's death, when both girls reportedly vied for the same prom date.

According to police, Bianca arrived at Dora's father's apartment on the night of the incident.  The girls reportedly began shouting and, at one point, authorities say, Dora locked Bianca out; Niloofar "Lily" Khalili said that is when her daughter called her, frantic-but then the phone went dead.

According to Police Lt. Raymond Lombardo, who supervised the investigation, Afrahim was calling a mutual male friend to resolve the dispute when Khalili ran down a hallway and through an open door, hoisted herself over the chest-high balcony railing and jumped.

Afrahim called 911 once she realized what had happened, shrieking to the operator that her friend had jumped off the balcony. Investigators found a stool propped against the railing and no evidence of a struggle. They interviewed the boy Afrahim had called, who corroborated her story, Lombardo said.

In June, investigators ruled Bianca's death a suicide, saying evidence indicated she had jumped off the apartment building's 15th-floor balcony. "We found no evidence, no physical evidence, no witness testimony, nothing to support the fact that this incident was a homicide,"  Lombardo told the Los Angeles Times.  But many community members refuse to believe Khalili committed suicide, and instead believe she was pushed off the balcony.

"An entire Persian community centered around Beverly Hills High School has been rocked by this," Lombardo said. The case, he said, has "divided the community like driving a stake through their heart."

Bianca's family and friends say Afrahim pushed her and demand that police reopen the investigation.  "I just want to clear her name," said Khalili's mother, who insists her daughter did not commit suicide.

Afrahim declined to be interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Her father said despite the findings, his daughter has received threats and that community suspicion may spoil her prospects for getting an education, finding work, marrying and starting a family. Afrahim, whose family was worried about her safety, didn't even attend her own graduation in June and has postponed plans to attend Santa Monica College.

Members of the Persian Jewish community have continued to bombard officials with e-mails and phone calls, write letters to the Jewish Journal, post messages on the social networking site Facebook, and discuss the case in parks and at temples. They have taken sides, calling on police, rabbis, school officials and community leaders to intervene.

Sometimes "your name is more important than what really happened," said Michelle Halimi, a Persian Jewish teacher at Beverly Hills High School.

Community leaders estimate there are about 50,000 Persian Jews in the Los Angeles area, the largest enclave in the country.  Many members of the community emigrated from Iran after the 1979 Iranian revolution; some refer to themselves as Persian-rather than Iranian-in reference to their cultural heritage.

The Persian Jews were drawn to Los Angeles by familial ties, business connections or academic pursuit. They settled in California, especially Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica, Westwood and West Los Angeles.  At their temples, community centers and schools, their native Persian is spoken as often as English. In Beverly Hills, about one-fifth of the roughly 35,000 residents are Persian, many of them Jewish, according to Jimmy Delshad, the city's Persian-Jewish city councilman and former mayor.

Even as the community expanded, Delshad told the Los Angeles Times, it remained bound by tradition, language and rituals.

Teens like Khalili and Afrahim grew up speaking or at least hearing the Persian language. At religious schools and Beverly Hills High-where about a third of the student body is Persian-they develop networks of Persian friends with a foot in both cultures.

In early June, Principal Joseph Guidetti arranged for Afrahim to visit the school and to answer questions about the fatal night from a group of about two-dozen classmates.  "Put yourself in my shoes," the teen said, telling them that she had just watched her friend die.   


About Iran Times:
The Iran Times is an independent newspaper with no affiliation with any political party or faction The Iran Times corporation was founded in Washington D.C. in 1970, in accordance with U.S. federal and local regulations: www.iran-times.com

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