BREMERTON – The family of Hevi Muhaz Tahir, a Bremerton 17-year-old who took her own life in January, is seeking help sending her body home for burial. It was her wish to be buried in her homeland of Kurdistan, her family said.
The loss of Tahir, a diligent student at Olympic High School and conscientious daughter and sister to her three siblings by many accounts, has deeply affected her family, former refugees from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. They struggle to understand the events of the past month and say there were few identifiable warning signs.
“For Hevi’s family, the tragic loss of their vibrant, loving daughter and sister includes the deep sadness and confusion of knowing that Hevi died by suicide,” a statement from Hamid Haji, a friend of the family, reads. “In this time of great sorrow, the community is coming together to make it possible for Hevi’s family to return her body to her homeland of Kurdistan for burial.”
Friends and family who knew Tahir have described a high school senior with enviable grades who was dependable to her family members, but may have struggled with a recent transition to a new city. The family moved to Bremerton from Kent in December, and Tahir appeared to have difficulty making friends.
One classmate of Tahir’s said she seemed “quiet and alone” during her months at Olympic. She stayed close to her siblings, whom she drove to school each morning.
Tahir’s loss compounds the struggles of her family members, who just four years ago fled their home in the ancient Kurdish capital of Erbil as the region was beset by ISIS.
Their emigration to the U.S. followed efforts by Tahir’s father, Muhaz Abdul-Hakim, who worked for an American defense contractor during the Iraq War, in landmine detection.
The soft-spoken Abdul-Hakim was at a loss to comprehend his daughter’s act even as he was thankful to the dozens of community members who gathered on Feb. 2 in Silverdale to help search for her body.
“I don’t understand why she went in,” he said. “Why did she do this?”
Spokespeople for the Central Kitsap School District said counselors were available for teachers and students following Tahir’s death. Franklyn MacKenzie, director of student support at CKSD, said that while the district does not have mental health professionals on staff, academic counselors and teachers are trained on suicide prevention, and the school district partners with professionals at Kitsap Mental Health Services.
“One of the things we do is we educate our teachers on the warning signs,” he said. “What should you be on the lookout for?”
He said if a teacher notices signs of a student experiencing mental health issues, they are directed to contact a counselor, who would involve a mental health professional if necessary.
During an interview Tuesday, Haji, the family’s close friend, expressed his gratitude to those who have aided the family in the weeks following Tahir’s disappearance.
“I want to thank all the friends and law enforcement agencies, and the community for coming out and helping search for Hevi,” he said.
To lessen the family’s financial burden in transporting their daughter’s body home, a statement reads, a crowdfunding site has been set up that as of Tuesday has raised about 30 percent of its goal of $10,000. The GoFundMe page, “Help Lay Hevi to Rest in Kurdistan,” can be found here.
Gabe Stutman is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.