Local News

Slain student loved being part of American fabric

Posted February 12, 2015

— As thousands of people gathered Thursday to mourn three students who were killed Tuesday in Chapel Hill, the hopes and dreams of one of the trio were broadcast over an area radio station.

Yusor Abu-Salha recorded a conversation last spring with a former teacher in the StoryCorps mobile radio studio, which was parked at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham.

"Growing up in America has been such a blessing," she told Musserat Jabeen in the interview. "Although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head – the head covering – there are so many ways I feel embedded in the fabric that is our culture."

Jabeen heard about StoryCorps, an oral history project that archives all of its recorded interviews in the Library of Congress, on the radio and called up Abu-Salha to record an interview.

"I don't know why this child was on my mind when I first thought of it," said Jabeen, who is now principal at Al Iman Islamic School in Raleigh. "I thought, 'Oh, she's my third-grade student."

Jabeen spoke on WUNC-FM show "The State of Things" as portions of the 40-minute interview were played.

"It's beautiful to see people of different areas interacting and being family, being one community," Abu-Salha told her former teacher.

Abu-Salha eventually married a boy she met at Al Iman, Deah Shaddy Barakat. Both planned to become dentists and planned to take their skills to places most in need.

"I couldn't just express how I felt," Jabeen said. "These are the two kids that we taught, and you will be together for the rest of your life."

Those lives were cut short when Barakat, 23, Abu-Salha, 21, and her younger sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot to death at the newlywed couple's home about 3 miles from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

Police said a neighbor gunned down all three to end a long-running dispute over parking spaces at the condominium complex.

Yusor Abu-Salha asked Jabeen in the interview what she would say if she had the world's attention, and the message was simple: Live in peace.

"The world would become such a beautiful place when we respect each other and make this world a place where everybody has the right to live, and we don't fight over our differences but learn to accept our differences," Jabeen told her prized student.

Toward the end of the interview, Abu-Salha said she was pleased Jabeen has asked her to take part.

"Sister, I love hearing from you. You always have the right thing to say, the right answers," she said.

But listening to the recording Thursday, Jabeen became emotional as she struggled for answers in the wake of Tuesday's shootings.

"Listening to Yusor's voice again, it just brought back all the memories," she said as she wept.


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