Chapel Hill remembers Muslim students
Three young Muslims continue leaving their mark on the world three years after being gunned down in the Finley Forest neighborhood.
Feb. 10 is a day to rejoice and celebrate the lives of Deah Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, but it’s also a day for people to commit their lives to service, according to a Chapel Hill Town Council resolution passed Wednesday night.
The three were shot and killed Feb. 10, 2015. The young couple had married just six weeks earlier, making their home in the eastern Chapel Hill condominium complex.
Barakat, an N.C. State University graduate, was in his second year at the UNC School of Dentistry. His wife, also an NCSU graduate, was planning to join her husband at the School of Dentistry in the fall. Her sister was an architecture student at NCSU’s School of Design.
The town’s proclamation brings comfort to their family and friends, said Nida Allam, operations director for the Our Three Winners Foundation, but it also challenges each person to ask what he or she is doing to make a difference in the community and the world.
The foundation, which celebrates the victims’ legacy of service and philanthropy, has provided dental care to more than 200 refugees through the annual “Project Refugee Smiles Dental Relief Mission” and awarded over $100,000 to students and organizations for service and community-building projects, Allam said.
They’ve also established the “Deah Yusor Razan Scholarship” for students who demonstrate Barakat’s personal and social-service values, and are kicking off another fundraising campaign this year to support even more service projects.
The work reflects the commitment that Barakat had to his work with homeless, underserved and refugee communities in need of food and free dental care, officials said. He was raising money for a summer mission to help Syrian refugees when he was killed; his wife, sister-in-law and fellow students had planned to join him.
“At the time of this proclamation, we’ve already accomplished a great deal, but we must be very careful not to rest on our past accomplishments and instead use this movement as motivation and a springboard to do more,” Allam said. “Our communities are far from perfect – until there are no more poor, until no one is in need, until every voice is heard, our mission is not complete.”
Outrage and grief
The victims’ murders rattled the community, sparking outrage and grief around the world, in part because police first said the murders were the result of an ongoing parking dispute with a neighbor Craig Hicks. Family and others contend it was a hate crime, pointing to anti-religious comments that Hicks, a self-described atheist, had posted to Facebook.
Hicks has been charged with murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. An FBI report on the shooting was given to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina in 2015 to help determine whether Hicks will be charged with a hate crime. He has not been assigned a trial date.
Farris Barakat, Deah Barakat’s older brother, said the police department’s initial statement “definitely cast a shadow on the story.”
“If (people) don’t know it as a hate crime, they’ll know it as the parking dispute in which three Muslims were killed in their home – execution style – by a man who hates religion and is intolerant,” Barakat said. “You can consider this a longstanding dispute over parking if you consider Rosa Parks’ struggle a longstanding dispute over a bus seat.”
The country has come a long way in three years, he added, thanks in no small part to President Donald Trump who helped people to recognize there is bias and discrimination against certain groups.
The Barakat family also has channeled its grief into The Light House Project in Raleigh, providing space to community-based programs serving young people.
“It’s their service, it’s their legacy of caring for others, it’s all that that has brought us out three years out and continues to be that inspiration behind a lot of good work in the community,” he said.