I can’t get Layla Barakat out of my head. In many ways, she is a typical mother. She is proud of her children.
“He never hurt anyone in a word or an action. He was gentle,” Barakat tells me with a radiant smile about her son Deah Barakat.
Deah Barakat, was a UNC dental student, a newlywed and a young man deeply committed to community service.
“He was a good Muslim,” Barakat says, “A role model.”
Last month in a senseless act of violence, 23-year-old Barakat; his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot and killed at point-blank range in Barakat’s Chapel Hill condominium.
Craig Hicks is charged with three counts of first degree murder and faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
Initially, investigators said the shooting related to an ongoing parking dispute Hicks had with the college students, but after prompting from friends and families of the victims, federal prosecutors are now investigating the possibility it was a hate crime. Hicks portrayed himself as a fervent atheist online. The victims were Muslim.
I interviewed Layla Barakat at her Raleigh home on March 3. We sat in her den, she in her traditional Muslim head-covering, dressed in white from head to toe. Sunlight streamed in the window illuminating her kind face which seemed to be more concerned with how hard it was for me to ask her about her son’s death than anything else.
She prefers not to speak about the reason for her son’s death, instead she sees the bigger picture, something I think I would have a very difficult time doing if my child had been killed.
Instead of anger, she feels mercy. Instead of gut-wrenching grief, she has moved into acceptance of her son’s death. She says the small blessings bestowed upon her and her family have allowed her to get to this place — the kindness of friends and strangers from many different cultural and religious backgrounds.
It is the little things, Barakat tells me, the Chick-fil-A owner who brought food for mourners, the neighbor who shoveled their driveway without asking, the Jewish and Christian spiritual leaders from all over the country who have publicly lent their prayers and support to the family.
“I have a deep sense of peace. I started feeling that peace the moment he passed away.”
In many ways, Barakat isn’t your typical mother.
“There is wisdom in this,” Barakat tells me with a level of serenity reserved for someone who has lived through darkness and come out on the other side. “For me to look at it as it is an act of God for a bigger message for humanity side. I can't be sorry or sad anymore. I thank God that he chose them. I thank God that he guided them to that message. And I feel very special that we are chosen for that message.”
Deah’s name means light, and his mother is keenly aware that her son’s legacy will involve continuing what he started, continuing to spread that light by helping those less fortunate.
In his last Facebook post in January, Deah showed himself and others feeding the homeless in Durham and handing out dental supplies, his personal mission. Now, the “FeedTheirLegacy” campaign aims to collect 100,000 cans of food nationwide to feed those in need in honor of the victims.
So far, 125 organizations around the country including 25 here in North Carolina have signed on to help. In Layla Barakat’s heart, this campaign along with a new understanding and support for Muslims in the Triangle because of the tragedy is all part of that light, a light she believes will multiply exponentially simply because of the way her son lived and died.
“My son was killed. I can be very sad, very angry. Or you can look at it differently. He was directed to live a role model life and his death enlightened the whole world.”
Now you know why I can’t get Layla Barakat out of my head …
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.