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Thousands gather to remember slain Chapel Hill students

Posted February 11, 2015
Updated February 12, 2015

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— Nada Salem has a memento from Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha that she will forever cherish.

"Deah and Yusor both bought me my first dentistry school sweater so we could announce it together," she said, her voice filled with emotion. "Two days ago, she sent me a picture of us in our matching sweaters, excited about us starting together."

Salem spoke in front of thousands during a vigil Wednesday night inside The Pit, a popular student gathering spot at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many held candles in memory of Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Each were found shot in the head Tuesday evening at Finley Forest condominiums on Summerwalk Circle in Durham County.

​Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who lives in the complex, surrendered to Chatham County authorities following the shootings and is charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Investigators believe the triple-shooting was over a possible parking dispute, although authorities said they haven’t ruled out the possibility that the motive was bias.

Committing violence or any other acts of retaliation will do no good, said Barakat's brother, Farris, who also spoke during the vigil.

"I plead that you live in their legacy, that you share the good that you know of them, and take the message my mom wanted to make public and do not fight fire with fire," he said.

Students remembered as selfless

Caring for others and thinking of more than themselves is how Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha lived their lives – especially when it came to children.

Barakat's focus on giving back began at Broughton High School, where he worked on a project to raise money for children in Africa.

"He had a huge happy heart and he was infectious," said Myra Smith, the school's International Baccalaureate program coordinator. "Obviously, the work he was doing and heading toward, the whole world loses."

In a YouTube video, Barakat asked for donations for an upcoming trip to Turkey to provide dental care for Syrian refugees.

Barakat talked about opening a clinic for children after finishing dental school, said Imad Ahmad, his friend and former roommate.  

“I just can’t explain how impactful he is in everybody’s life, especially mine,” he said. “I was in a troubled state when I met him and as soon as I met him he became a foundation for me.”

Dr. Suzanne Barakat said her brother was well-known for his kindness, lightheartedness, dedication to community service and his loves for basketball and “anything Steph Curry,” an all-star basketball player for the Golden State Warriors.

"Six weeks ago, I cried tears of joy at my baby brother’s wedding,” she said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “Today we are crying tears of unimaginable pain over the execution style murders of my brother Deah, his bride, Yusor, and her younger sister and best friend, Razan.”

Suzanne Barakat described the couple as “kindred spirits,” and said her youngest sister-in-law was creative, generous and a loyal friend.

At the UNC School of Dentistry, Barakat, a second-year student, was well-liked, said Jane Weintraub, school dean.

“His 1000-watt smile, his way of truly getting to know those around him,” she said. “His incredible heart for service, his generosity, his leadership and much more.”

Grief expressed online

In an online article titled “My best friend was killed and I don’t know why,” Amira Ata, a Raleigh woman who knew Yusor Abu-Salha since the third grade, credits her friend for who she is today.

“She always put others ahead of herself, just like her husband, Deah Barakat,” Ata said in an article on the website for Fusion, a cable network. “I am the person I am today because of her. She’s a really sweet person, you never catch her angry. She’s patient, very loving, like her mom, she’s caring. She’s a good person.”

Ata, a teacher at a Raleigh private school, recalled how Yusor Abu-Salha helped deliver toothbrushes and dental floss her students collected for those in need in Turkey. Abu-Salha paid extra baggage fees to have the items delivered, she said.

Yusor Abu-Salha grew up interested in the helping side of medicine – her dad is a psychiatrist and her mother helps with his practice, Ata said.

“I feel sad, but I also feel happy because she didn’t die alone,” she said in the article. “I’m not really sure how I feel exactly. I wish I could see her again — last time I saw her was Sunday. We were just talking about pictures she had posted from her surprise bridal shower in the mountains. I was planning on seeing her tomorrow, just to hang out. It’s just very unreal. It doesn’t make sense. I’m trying to stay faithful.”

A father's pain

Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of Yusor and Razan, also had difficulty coming to terms with their deaths.

"I don't even know how to feel yet," he said. 

"They lived a clean life, never gave us a bad day," he added. "We raised them in our faith. We raised them to love their country and their people, and everybody’s heart is broken. Everybody. All walks of life. The whole city did not sleep last night."

The slain students will be buried Friday, according to a Facebook page dedicated to their memory. A special prayer service will be held at 1:35 p.m. Thursday on the Method Road soccer fields across from the Islamic Association of Raleigh. The prayer service is open to the public.

22 Comments

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  • Ronald Lee Feb 12, 2015
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    Maybe you misunderstood what I'm saying. I know that there are leaders of groups that are coming out against Islamic Extremist, but do you see groups of Muslims like we saw today coming out against it? I don't think I made it difficult to understand, but sometimes people read but don't comprehend. Are you able to understand now? I'd like to see two or three thousands of Muslims coming out and marching in support of Anti Islamic Extremist all over the U.S. It would send a message to young Muslims that are being recruited by ISIS and groups trying to recruit young American Muslims. I don't think we'll see that do you?

  • Tommie Chavis Feb 12, 2015
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    We are more alike than you think. I was raised to believe and worship a certain way. I always felt something was not right growing up. I have not been back to church in well over 20 or more years because of the same reasons you have in your post. I finally woke up and realized my relationship with God is mine and not anyone elses. I have to pay for my sins not someone elses sins.

  • Tommie Chavis Feb 12, 2015
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    You are not clueless. You are very educated and smart. I lived it way too much growing up and found it very depressing. To this day my mother and sisters who were treated like this still have issues speaking up for themselves. They become very quiet and somewhat reclusive in nature. I wished they never met those men, but as life has it they made it thru and are single now. I can assure you if you saw what I lived thru with my mother and sisters who were treated like property you would then see what I am talking about. It is very sad and depressing.

  • Alexia Proper Feb 12, 2015
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    Independent Baptist. However, I've not been to a church in years. I went to church regularly until about 16 when I started working. I moved to a new town at 18, but never found a church I liked until about 24 years old. I moved to NC when I was 29 and tried a few churches, but the ones I attended were either not what I'd call a "church" (more like a social club with a few versus thrown in) or "strange" (like shaking hands around in the air). So, I don't really go to church.

    But, I've read a lot of the Bible. I understand what it says. I also recognize (contrary to what is said in churches) that there are contradictions in the text, likely some errors (due to stories being handed down), etc.

    So, I'm not sure I perfectly fit any religion, either, but I still claim "independent baptist".

  • Alexia Proper Feb 12, 2015
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    Wow, that's good to know. I really had no idea. I am aware of text in the Bible that says (and I'm definitely not quoting) to submit to their husbands and to obey them. Decisions of husbands are to be accepted. In general, those are not bad rules to follow if the husband is a rational man. A rational man will likely consult the wife. We see examples of this throughout the Bible and history.

    But when a decision needs to be made, somebody ultimately has to make it. Arguing over a decision only introduces friction in the marriage. So if the husband is so difficult that he will not consult the wife, best to leave. If the marriage is one of fighting and disagreement, best to leave.

    I feel sorry for these women who are so oppressed. I really was clueless.

  • Tommie Chavis Feb 12, 2015
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    Also which faction of Christianity do you practice? There are well over 10,000 or more factions of Christianity and each one practices their religion/faith differently. Me I choose to not have any faction just my relationship with my God in the way I feel He best benefits me and my spiritual walk.

  • Tommie Chavis Feb 12, 2015
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    The same here and I have been a Christian all my life also, yet I have lived in rural areas that are predominantly Pentecostal, Freewill, Southern Baptist, and AME. In these rural areas those same religions dictate women are to be subservient to their husbands. They are not to hold any official position in Church, They are to dress a certain way and God forbid they try and wear pants or socialize with the opposite sex in any outings. They are not to wear makeup and they can not participate in many activities that the local community have. I personally know this since my stepfather was a minister of a church back home. I also know this since my cousins who are also ministers share the same view. In most metropolitan areas you will not see this widespread but in very rural areas of the state yes this is real and happening today.

  • Tommie Chavis Feb 12, 2015
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    If you are offended by my post I guess I hit the nail on the head. By your logic and post you in fact with rose colored words despise the young people due to your hatred of Muslims regardless of where they LIVED or WORKED or ATTENDED SCHOOL, which by the way is UNC Chapel Hill. Further more I presented facts that you have yet to dispute with the exception of saying what THEY WILL NOT DO when in fact they were paying taxes locally, spending money locally, doing business locally and you want to know why because they LIVED here. So next time you go and compare an elderly lady who died in her home due to a fire at the age of 80 to young adults in their 20's, you may want to check your facts instead of espousing such hate rose colored comments about MUSLIMS.

  • Alexia Proper Feb 12, 2015
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    Been a Christian my whole life, but I've never seen oppression of women or equal opportunities, except for one: who can serve as the preacher in the church. Other than that, what kind of issues have you faced? Perhaps your parents practiced some kind of "Christianity" that wasn't documented in the Bible?

  • Alexia Proper Feb 12, 2015
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    It was not a hate crime. I read the man's Facebook pages. He clearly did not think highly of religion, but it was not a hateful view. He considered religion as ignorant. He even had one picture comparing Christianity and Islam and, basically, the message is that they are both the same.

    He also had postings on Facebook that talked about how he viewed everyone the same and had respect for people. I forget exactly what was there, as I was looking for evidence that he might have hated particular religious groups. No such evidence exists, though it will be interesting to see if prosecutors try to perpetuate the lie started by this family.

    The guy might have been fully enraged, but religion wasn't the source of the problem.

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