- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

Residents in the Saratoga neighborhood in Fairfax County, Va., where a mother was charged with attacking her three young daughters Saturday spent yesterday trying to figure out what could have triggered such a brutal attack.

The neighbors said they could not believe that Sohaila Ali, 38, whom they described as a very friendly woman, would be capable of harming her daughters so severely that all three were placed on life support shortly after the mid-afternoon attack.

"[Mrs. Ali] always smiled a lot," said Gene Garaffa, who has lived next door to the Ali family for more than a year. "She never went anywhere without her children. They were inseparable. To think that she could do something like this … it would be the farthest thing from my mind.

"I realize that adults have problems, but don't ever take it on your children. But we don't know what Mrs. Ali's problem was to begin with, or even if she did it," she said.

Fairfax County police on Saturday night charged Mrs. Ali with malicious wounding after officers, responding to a call for help, found the girls 22 months old, 3 years old and 4 years old suffering from serious injuries in the family's third-floor apartment at 7713 Saratoga Ridge Court.

All three children were flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, where they were placed on life support in the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit.

Doctors said last night two of the three girls were removed from respirators sometime yesterday and were "slowly regaining consciousness." The youngest child remained on life support and was in critical condition last night.

Members of the Ali family could not be reached for comment and did not answer knocks on their front door yesterday. Police have not released the name of Mrs. Ali's husband.

Some neighbors said Mrs. Ali's husband, who reportedly was not home when the incident occurred, was distraught and began screaming, "My kids, my kids, my kids," when he learned from police what had happened.

Dr. Dan Hanfling, an emergency-department physician who treated the girls Saturday night, confirmed yesterday that all three children suffered a brain injury, and that two of the three girls were stabbed.

Mrs. Ali also was admitted to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where she was in serious condition last night in the hospital's intensive care unit. Doctors said Mrs. Ali, who was under police guard, was being evaluated for a medical condition, but declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, police executed a search warrant on the family's apartment yesterday morning, but declined to say whether any items were seized from the home.

As detectives combed through the apartment, neighbors of the tidy apartment complex tried to return to their daily weekend routines after what they called "a disturbing event."

"It's just disgusting what happened," said one neighbor, who was walking his dog in front of the complex where the Ali family lives. "It's just such a shame, and I feel very sorry for the children."

Another neighbor, who lives across the street from the Ali family, said she is trying to forget the image of the three girls being carried out of the apartment, wrapped in "bloody sheets."

"It's hard to forget something like that," said the young woman, who asked not to be identified. "The blood on the sheets and the little feet hanging out of the sheets."

The young woman said she also saw Mrs. Ali as she was being led downstairs by police officers in handcuffs after the children were flown to the hospital. "She was just dazed," the woman said. "She didn't seem upset. She just had a blank look on her face. It was shocking."

Mr. Garaffa said he was surprised to learn that Mrs. Ali was charged with attacking her children. He said he always saw Mrs. Ali and her children together, going shopping at the grocery store a block away or walking around the quiet neighborhood.

"This family smiled all the time," Mr. Garaffa said as he stood outside the family's apartment yesterday afternoon. "They always seemed to be happy. That's what is so puzzling about this."

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