Three Muslims murdered in Chapel Hill shooting



Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, center, leads mourners in prayer over the caskets of his daughters Yusor Abu-Salha, 21,and Razan Abu-Salha, 19, and Yusor’s husband Deah Barakat, 23, during a funeral service at the Method Road Soccer Complex on Feb. 12, 2015 on N.C. State’s campus in Raleigh, N.C. Officials say that 5,500 people attend the event for the 3 young Muslims who were shot and killed in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night. (Corey Lewenstein/News & Observer/TNS)

Jenan Taha, Features & Arts Editor

After the Chapel Hill tragedy in North Carolina which many have recognized as a possible hate crime, social media exploded in an outpour of sympathy for the three young Muslim victims—North Carolina University students Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, who were shot in their condo on the evening of February 10 by their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks. A vigil was held to honor the slain students the next day.

Social media users protested the small-scale news coverage of the attack, which was initially limited to the Chapel Hill area, and argued that the attack was just as important as other shootings and should be given the same coverage. Thousands have identified the attack as a hate crime due to the perpetrator’s “anti-theist” beliefs, according to his Facebook page, which condemns various religions, including Islam, as the cause of violence and encourages a secular society.

However, police are still investigating the motives of the attack, which was apparently provoked by an ongoing dispute over the condo parking lot. Hicks had been complaining about it to neighborhood officials for several months.

Some neighbors complained that Hicks had threatened them by carrying and flaunting a gun, and Yusor admitted to her father, Mohammad Abu-Salha, that her neighbor frightened her. He recalls his daughter saying, “Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look.”

Several times Hicks complained to the three students that they were too loud and even carried a rifle during one complaint.

When Yusor’s father received the police call, he felt he already knew what had happened.

“So, we just drove there knowing what we [were] about to face,” Mohammad Abu-Salha said. “And then we found the police there. We pretty much knew nobody survived.”

Several neighbors heard the gunshots and screams from the condo, and after learning the identity of the victims, told investigators that ever since Yusor moved to the neighborhood with her husband, Hicks became more agitated and complained more often about various issues.

Although Abu-Salha father believes it was a hate crime fueled by his daughters’ religion, Hicks’ wife, soon to be ex, claims this is not so.

“I can say with my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or victims’ faith,” Karen Hicks said.

Whatever the motive, the crime is no less tragic. Barakat and his wife were both aspiring dentists, and Razan was studying a degree in architecture. The couple had been married just six months before the attack.

Barakat was planning a trip to Turkey with several other dentistry students to provide dental care to Syrian refugees, and had also spent much of his time giving out free dental supplies to the homeless. Yusor and Razan were also ardent humanitarians and hard-working students.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spoke to the town about the shooting and honored the victims.

“It was a senseless and tragic act surrounding a longstanding dispute,” Kleinschmidt said. “We do not know whether anti-Muslim bias played a role in this crime, but I do recognize the fear that members of our community may feel. Chapel Hill is a place for everyone, a place where Muslim lives matter.”

Thousands of university students and supporters attended the traditional Muslim funeral held for the three victims near Raleigh. Fundraisers and charity drives have been created by various school organizations along the east coast to honor the teens’ legacy and continue the kind work that was cut short by tragedy.