Samara Khan made it to England to attend her slain mother's funeral last week. Meanwhile the family of her father, who is accused of killing Shazmina Khan, is maintaining his innocence and apparently plans to seek custody of the motherless child.
Shazmina had three siblings, and her brother in London, Nadir Esmail, had desperately requested that his niece, who is in the custody of the state Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), be allowed to come to the United Kingdom, where Shazmina's remains were sent for burial. And in fact the girl, accompanied by a male and female social worker, arrived in London Friday morning for the funeral and went back to the States Saturday, according to Esmail, 33.
"It was a big relief because she was there and we did all the ceremonies we were supposed to do," he said, referring to Muslim burial rites. "It really meant a lot, we're really grateful to the social workers there that at least they could bring her down to pay her final respects to her mom."
Shazmina and Nadir's sister in Tanzania, 35-year-old Nasmina "Kate" Esmail, is still trying to get the necessary approvals to travel to New Jersey to begin proceedings to get custody her niece Samara. She said the family is determined to come to Samara's aid because the four siblings, including Shazmina, lost both their parents when they were children in their homeland of Kenya.
"There are three siblings left, and none of the three of us really mind which one of us gets Samara as long as she is with our family," Nasmina said during a phone call to The Times from Tanzania. "Remember that we were all orphaned at a very tender age, so we know what it means to be orphaned," she said. "all of us share the same heart ... We had at such a tender age so much suffering, that we embrace the ones that suffer."
Members of Khalid Khan's family have telephoned the Esmail family in the United Kingdom, "denying that Khalid murdered my sister," according to Nasmina. Shazmina had a final restraining order against her estranged husband when she died, according to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, and there was a history of domestic disputes between them.
In addition to proclaiming Khalid Khan's innocence, his family members "have indicated they will seek custody" of Samara, a student at the Charles H. Bullock Elementary School in Montclair, Nasmina said.
She added that the man who is married to Khalid's sister has contacted her family. Khalid Khan, who worked as a DeCamp bus driver, has a sister and brother who could seek custody. Nasmina Esmail added that Khalid's sister "is the one that went to visit Samara recently."
Nasmina also alleged that the accused killer's family only expressed an interest in adopting Samara after it learned that the Montclair community was raising money to create a trust fund for Samara.
Khan's family in Bloomfield couldn't be reached for comment Monday. But authorities said last week that Khalid Khan's parental rights had not been severed. DYFS is not commenting on the case.
The Esmail family is concerned about their niece's well-being. She was in the apartment when her mother was killed, left in a bath tub with her throat slashed.
"Our niece is the only living witness to this case," said Nasmina, who could permission to leave Tanzania to attend the funeral.
"And up to now I believe she hasn't spoken," she said. "Even at the funeral, she was cold. I have watched my sister raise this child. Samara has hardly ever eaten food on her own. Her mother would hand feed her. Samara was the only child my sister ever had. My sister loved her dearly and every meal was fed to Samara. And now suddenly there's no one there feeding her. There's no one there doing anything for her. She didn't shed a tear. I'm sure she's very badly, emotionally and mentally damaged with this experience, and she needs her family. She needs us to be there with her."
Nadir Esmail, Samara's uncle, said, "Yes, she did not cry, not a single tear [at the funeral]."
He added, "We took her close to her mother, but she was upset. I think somewhere deep down she knew what had happened. We didn't want to talk about it or question her. Just let it be ... but the family support was there, and it's not easy."
Samara did get openly emotional when she had to leave England and return to the Unites States.
"Obviously, it wasn't easy to talk to her," Nadir Esmail said. "When she was leaving us, she really didn't want to leave. She was really, really upset and crying ... She just didn't want to leave us. And we just had to convince her you've got to be strong and we're going to get be together soon enough."
Nasmina, who last saw her sister in 2006, said that Shazmina and Khalid Khan first met in Kenya, where both their families are from.
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Nasmina, who has worked as a freelance war zone photographer for the Associated Press and Reuters, said she was extremely grateful for the support that Samara and Shazmina have received from their friends in Montclair and community members. Any funds raised should be used to pay for Samara's education, she said.