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Young Afghan mother, Catholic Charities volunteer killed by oncoming truck

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — A retired nurse who felt called to help Afghan refugees and the young Afghan mother she embraced as a mentor were killed after being hit by a truck while out taking a walk Feb. 15.

Enedina “Dina” Fernandez, 75, had just finished giving an English lesson to 23-year-old Nabila Rasoul at Rasoul’s new home in northeast Charlotte. They went out for a walk around 3 p.m.

About the same time, a Honda Civic speeding along a busy highway about a block away from the house crashed into a Dodge Ram pickup truck and sent it off the roadway, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

The impact caused the truck to overturn and jump the curb, careening onto the sidewalk where the two women were walking.

Fernandez, a Catholic Charities volunteer, died at the scene. Rasoul, a recent evacuee from Afghanistan, was rushed to a hospital but died from her injuries. No others were seriously injured.

A police detective involved with the investigation said the two women “were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The two women had become close after Rasoul, a mother of three young children, and her husband arrived in Charlotte in October.

“We are heartbroken over the loss of Dina and Nabila, who were forming a special bond as Dina taught her English and shared stories about their families,” said Gerard Carter, executive director and CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.

“Dina was a passionate volunteer who stepped up to help Catholic Charities in its efforts to resettle Afghan evacuees into our community,” he said. “Nabila and her family were adjusting well.”

Rasoul leaves behind her husband, Ahmad, 32, and three children; the youngest was born Oct. 30 in Charlotte, an American citizen.

The Rasouls fled Afghanistan last summer after the sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces. They spent three months living in a tent on a U.S. military base in Texas, then moved to Charlotte last fall through Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program.

The Charlotte community embraced the Rasoul family. Volunteers rallied around Nabila, who was eight months pregnant when she arrived, and the family settled into a home made available by Sam Hatcher, who also felt compelled to do something for the arriving Afghan refugees.

“The Rasoul family has become part of our family, and had already begun a wonderful new life,” said Hatcher, who started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Ahmad and the children. The page can be found at https://bit.ly/3LLdewA.

“They came to America with nothing to start a new life and had begun a promising future when a careless act changed everything, leaving two toddlers and a baby without a mom,” Hatcher said. “America needs to do everything it can to help fortify this wounded family. We need to commit to help these children build a life in this country.”

Ahmad Rasoul is desperate now for U.S. authorities to bring his parents from Afghanistan to reunite his family and help care for his children, ages 4, 3 and 4 months.

“I don’t like America without my wife,” he told a local TV station. “I want from government of America to bring my parents to America, my mother and my father are still in Afghanistan.”

Ahmad, who has a master’s in business administration and worked as a professional in Afghanistan, recently found a job with Hendrick Automotive Group in Charlotte.

He obtained his North Carolina driver’s license just two weeks ago, and a donor provided a car. Nabila focused on raising the children and was committed to learning English and building a new life for their family.

Dina Fernandez became Nabila’s teacher. She spotted the need on the news last fall when it was announced that Afghan evacuees would be resettled in Charlotte. A member of St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, she joined the parish’s refugee mentoring team and became a volunteer for Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program.

“She was a giver,” Peter Fernandez said of his wife of 54 years. “Her work as a volunteer with the community speaks volumes. I would like people know that Dina was a great Catholic who loved her faith and always was looking to help people.”

A retired nurse who also worked at IBM, she was a Sunday School teacher and English translator who assisted Hispanic immigrants at medical appointments. The Fernandezes have two adult children, Melissa and Christopher, and two grandchildren. They have been active in serving the community and the church as members of St. Gabriel Parish and more recently at St. Peter Parish, both in Charlotte.

“Dina was really proud of how much progress Nabila was making and how smart she was,” Peter Fernandez said, adding that she bought the family the “Farsi-to-English Oxford Picture Dictionary” to help with their lessons.

Dina’s sister Carmen Quesada said Dina loved Nabila.

“My sister understood that the best way to help people is to teach them to help themselves,” Quesada said. “I want people to remember my sister for her kindness and her joy. She did all these wonderful things, and there was a lightness in her. She helped because it was the right thing to do, but also because she loved it.”

Police charged the driver of the Honda Civic, James Payne, 21, with two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, DWI, reckless driving, having an open container and other traffic violations. He also was charged with misdemeanor child abuse because there was a minor in his car, police said.

As of Feb. 18, he remained in jail on a $26,500 bond.

Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Charlotte are reaching out to both families to assist in any way they can, Carter said.

“We hope everyone in the Charlotte community will join us in praying for the families, that they may find strength and support to sustain them in their grief over the sudden, tragic loss of their loved ones,” he said.

Funeral services for Rasoul were held Feb. 17. Funeral services for Fernandez are planned for Feb. 23.

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Bender and Chandler are on the staff of the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.

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