(CNN) — A 27-year-old Muslim man killed last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is being remembered as a “brilliant public servant” committed to “improving conditions and inclusivity for disadvantaged minorities,” according to the mayor of the city he worked for.
Police believe the death of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain on August 1 could be linked to the killings of three other Muslim men. The most recent killing, which Albuquerque police were alerted to Friday night, came a day after authorities determined there was a connection between the killings of Hussain and 41-year-old Aftab Hussein, who, like Hussain was from Pakistan.
Detectives are working to determine whether the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, a Muslim man from Afghanistan killed outside a business he ran with his brother, was also related.
Authorities are now looking for a “vehicle of interest” they say is potentially connected to the murders, Albuquerque Police Department Deputy Chief Cecily Parker said Sunday. The car is described as a dark silver, sedan-style Volkswagen Jetta or Passat with tinted windows, Parker said.
At the time he was killed, Hussain worked on the planning team for the city of Española, New Mexico, according to a news release from the mayor, who said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the man’s death.
“Muhammad was soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh,” Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release last Wednesday. “He was well-respected and well-liked by his coworkers and members of the community.”
Hussain, who had worked for the office for a year, studied law and human resource management at the University of Punjab in Pakistan, the mayor’s release said, before receiving both master’s and bachelor degrees in community and regional planning from the University of New Mexico.
“Our City staff has lost a member of our family,” the mayor’s statement said, “and we all have lost a brilliant public servant who wanted to serve and improve his community.”
The University of New Mexico community is similarly “heartbroken” over Hussain’s death, President Garnett S. Stokes said in a statement, calling Hussain “an inspiring leader and a really special Lobo who touched so many lives.”
“It was my privilege to know and work with him,” Stokes said.
Jesse Alemán, the acting dean of graduate studies at the university, called Hussain a “brilliant, respected student leader” who “continued to extend his compassionate leadership skills and educational expertise at the local and state levels” after he graduated.
Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury, who said Hussain worked on her campaign for Congress, said his “smile and his passion lit up a room.”
“His work as a field organizer for our campaign inspired countless people with his compassion and dedication to working in partnership with our communities, as one of the kindest and hardest working people I have ever known,” Stansbury said at the news conference Sunday.
Victims were ‘ambushed with no warning,’ police say
The attacks have drawn condemnation from political leaders, including President Joe Biden, who said he was “angered and saddened” by the attacks.
“While we await a full investigation, my prayers are with the victims’ families, and my Administration stands strongly with the Muslim community,” Biden wrote on Twitter.
Vice President Kamala Harris and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham similarly expressed support for New Mexico’s Muslim community, with the latter describing the attacks as “deeply angering and wholly intolerable.”
“I am incredibly angry about the situation,” the governor said Sunday. “Every New Mexican should stand up and be against this kind of hatred. It has no place in this city and it has no place in our state,” Lujan Grisham said.
Speaking to the Muslim community in Albuquerque and across the state Sunday, Congresswoman Stansbury said Muslims are “part and parcel of who we are in New Mexico.”
“I want to say that every one of us in New Mexico must rise to meet these acts of hatred by demonstrating love, by demonstrating friendship and by demonstrating solidarity. This is not New Mexico. This is not who we are,” Stansbury said. “We will stand in solidarity. We will stand in grief and in mourning. And we will stand in our commitment to love and inclusion and belonging in this community.”
The FBI is assisting with the investigation, according to a news release from the Albuquerque Police Department, which has created an online portal where residents can upload videos and images that may help authorities investigating the recent killings. The local Crime Stoppers Board has voted to increase a reward for information that helps lead to an arrest from $15,000 to $20,000.
“These shootings are disturbing,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said in a news conference Saturday, soon after the fourth victim was discovered.
Albuquerque police officers responded just before midnight Friday to reports of a shooting in the area of Truman Street and Grand Avenue, and found the victim dead, according to the police department’s news release. The victim, a Muslim man believed to be in his mid-20s, was from South Asia, police said. His identity has not been positively confirmed, the release added.
Hussain, Hussein and Ahmadi, were all “ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed,” Kyle Hartsock, deputy commander of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division, previously said.
“Our top priority is keeping the community safe and we are asking the Muslim community especially, to be vigilant, to watch out for one another. If you see something, say something,” the police chief said Saturday. “Evil will not prevail.”
The Muslim community is living in fear due to the killings, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday, and the city is taking steps to increase security.
“We have heard from the community that the fear is so strong, there is a concern about even things like groceries and getting meals for certain folks in certain areas of town,” Keller said. The city is providing meals for those affected by the shootings, he added.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is also offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of those responsible, the organization announced, calling the series of killings a “horrific, hateful shooting spree.”
“We thank local, state and federal law enforcement for their ongoing work on this crisis, and we call the Biden administration to ensure that authorities all of the resources needed to both protect the Albuquerque Muslim community and stop those responsible for these horrific crimes before they claim more innocent lives,” CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement.