01/31/2014 12:50 EST | Updated 04/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Coroner's office identifies woman who died in Montreal subway tragedy

MONTREAL - The husband of a woman who was strangled by her own clothing on a Montreal subway escalator had just returned to Morocco to deal with his mother's death.

A coroner's spokeswoman identified the woman on Friday as Naima Rharouity, 47.

Those who knew her say the married mother of boys aged 8 and 5 was a kind and outgoing person who was always ready to lend a helping hand.

Thursday's tragedy was another blow to her husband, who had recently returned to their native Morocco to deal with a death in his own family.

He was rushing back to Montreal on Friday to cope with his latest loss.

An administrator at a community organization where Rharouity had volunteered after seeking help when she first came to Canada said they were raising money and preparing to help her husband.

"He left for Morocco in a hurry because his own mother passed away," said Djelloul Mersel. "He wasn't here when she passed away."

"It's all so very tragic."

Police and first responders believe Rharouity may have died after being strangled when her scarf became ensnared in the mechanism of the escalator.

But authorities weren't able to explain Friday how that might have happened. A famly member reached by phone said they were waiting for answers.

"The cause of death is still unknown," police said Friday.

They confirmed she was wearing a hijab but it was not known if that was the article of clothing that got caught.

Mersel, who works in development at Projet Villeray dans L'Est, said Rharouity had been in Montreal for about a year-and-a-half.

He said Rharouity started about by seeking aid at the organization, which provides assistance to newcomers in the area.

Subsequently, she ended up volunteering at the organization. Its Facebook page shows her at one of the many events put together by the group.

"Naima was involved in all of the activities we did here with her children, with her family," Mersel said. "She was sociable and every time we had activities, she'd always be ready to help."

She was also a regular with her younger son at a weekly event meant for stay-at-home mothers looking for a break. She was at that gathering just last Tuesday, Mersel said.

Mersel, who is Algerian, said the first thing people do when someone dies in North African culture is to raise money for the family.

He said the organization found out about the tragedy early Friday. They had an inkling it might be someone they knew.

"We knew a woman wearing a hijab had died but we didn't know who," Mersel said. "We figured it was someone we knew because Fabre metro (subway) isn't far from here."

On Friday morning, a friend of Rharouity called to deliver the bad news.

The tragic death also produced a torrent of racist and hate-filled comments on the Internet after some media reported the victim was wearing a hijab.

The Quebec Collective Against Islamaphobia denounced the comments, saying the debate has become more intense with the ongoing divisions over the government's proposed secular charter.

But a spokesman said it's not an excuse for the kind of comments seen on the Internet in the past two days.

"We've never seen this kind of hate and words encouraging violence before," said Adil Charkaoui, a spokesman for the group. "The social climate has deteriorated in an incredible fashion."

Genevieve Guilbault, a Quebec coroner's spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement a coroner has been assigned to investigate and that an autopsy was planned for Friday.

Guilbault said the cause of death would be included in the final report penned by coroner Paul Dionne, who is conducting the investigation.

Montreal police investigators reviewed a surveillance video that yielded no firm answers.

Authorities have said the incident occurred around 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, near the end of the morning rush hour.

Police said Rharouity was travelling down the escalator toward the subway platform when her scarf became trapped.

Firefighters found her at the bottom of the escalator and tried to revive her. Ambulance technicians followed suit, but she was declared dead at the scene.

An ambulance service spokesman said the victim was actually trapped in the escalator mechanism, which remained a focal point of the investigation Friday. Some left flowers for the victim on the escalator in question.

The Regie du batiment, the body which enforces the province's building code, is also involved in the investigation.

A spokeswoman for the Montreal transit commission offered its sympathies to the families and relatives of the victim.

Isabelle Tremblay said in an emailed statement it was the first time "in recent memory" that a death has been linked to an escalator at one of the agency's subway stations

Tremblay said no further comment could be given because an investigation is underway.