photograph by Belinda van Mossel

When the New Year dawned with a sense of hope and promise for a brighter tomorrow, we at
Tri-County Youth Services Bureau were grief-stricken by the news that there was one less
star shining in the sky. Three of our promising youth were involved in a single-car accident
on St. Charles Parkway on the last day of the year. Our baby sister, 15-year-old Zeyneb
Mourtaj had passed on from this life. Older sister, 21-year-old Nadia Mourtaj was and
continues to be in critical condition at the hospital. As the news unfolded, we watched 18-
year-old Meklit Habtom recount the incident to news reporters with her remarkable signature
grace and courage.
There are no words to express our condolences to the Mourtaj’s. What can we say to bring
comfort to a grieving family? How do we help them find meaning in this loss, this sense of
shock and feelings of numbness?


Nadia, Zeyneb and Meklit have been staples at the Bureau for close to 10 years, having
participated in programs, and then continuing as youth leaders. Nadia was employed as a
Youth Development Assistant during her high school years, at the end of her school day,
during the breaks, and in the summer youth employment program. We proudly witnessed and
supported her transition from high school to college, blossoming as an advocate with a
passion for reducing injustice. She is filled with promise, and she remains in our prayers for a
wholesome recovery.
Zeyneb and Meklit were Youth Leaders, mentoring the younger children, teaching them
about the dangers of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping. They modeled social skills,
healthy emotions, and healthy living. Eager to be of service, they volunteered for special
events, on weekends, and during the summer, leading with care and compassion. Zeyneb was
looking forward to joining this summer’s cohort of Youth Development Assistants, to take on
additional responsibility, and to continue to serve in a leadership capacity.
Since its founding in 1971, Tri-County Youth Services Bureau has provided a safe space for
youth to grow and develop. Many youth participants continue as youth leaders under staff’s
guidance. Eventually they move on to further their education, to join the workforce, and to
make a significant contribution to our world. Nadia, Zeyneb and Meklit are part of the fabric
of this youth organization. Their smiles, their dedication, their passion for other youth, their
care and compassion have made an indelible mark on their peers, and they have touched
many lives.

Zehneb and Nadia

With broken hearts we stand in solidarity with all those who mourn. We pray with those who
ask God’s grace and strength during this challenging time. We are comforted that there is a
bright star shining upon us, guiding us to continue to live lives of service in her name. We
love you Zeyneb! Shine bright like a diamond! Reflect the light of the diamond! You are our
A candlelight vigil will be held on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 at 7:00pm at Benjamin
Stoddert Middle School, 2040 St. Thomas Drive, Waldorf.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, January 11, 2019 at 11:00am at the Mt. Ennan
Baptist Church, 9832 Piscataway Road, Clinton, MD 20735. Arrival is at 10:30am.
If you are dealing with the death of a child, or of anyone close to you, and you would like to
speak to a counselor about grief and loss, contact the Tri-County Youth Services Bureau at
(301) 645-1837 or email: