#ChapelHillShooting: Shots Heard Around the World

The world is still reeling from the recent murders of three young Muslim students in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina apartment on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 10. The victims, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, had reportedly each been shot execution-style, with a bullet to the head.

(Left to right: Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha)

The man responsible, the victims’ neighbour, 46-year-old Craig Hicks, turned himself in to authorities shortly afterwards and stated his frustration over an ongoing parking dispute as his motive. However, the victims’ families reject this claim and call the incident a hate crime towards their faith. Hicks was notoriously vocal about his anti-religious attitude on his Facebook page and had allegedly threatened the victims with his gun several times before. The FBI has since opened a federal inquiry into the murders. Meanwhile, on February 16, Hicks was formally indicted on three counts of first-degree murder.

(Razan and Yusor Abu-Salha)

In the immediate hours following its discovery, the appalling triple homicide received coverage only on local news channels. The hashtags #ChapelHillShooting and #MuslimLivesMatter quickly began trending on Twitter as people accused the media of ignoring the shooting. Many argued that national news stations eventually covered the event only because the Internet “shamed the media” into giving the story attention. Three days after the fact, President Obama released an official statement in which he called the murders “brutal and outrageous.” Still, the president of Turkey criticized Obama for not addressing the shooting deaths before, contending that the silence of American leaders spoke volumes.

(Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat)

There are truly no words to express the extent of this monumental loss. Deah was in his second year at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry, where Yusor was beginning dental school this fall. They were newlyweds, just married at the end of December last year. Razan was an outstanding student at North Carolina State University’s reputable College of Design. They were all very intelligent, with incredibly promising futures ahead of them, and they were exceptionally kind, giving people. Deah and Yusor were involved with Habitat for Humanity and regularly volunteered at local homeless shelters. Deah was notably planning a trip to Turkey this summer to provide much-needed dental care to Syrian refugees there.

(© Amru Salahuddien 2015)

In the wake of these shocking murders, people all over the world have come together to share their grief and to try to make sense of this tragedy. On February 11, thousands of UNC students congregated in the campus student courtyard in a candlelight vigil to honour Deah, Yusor, and Razan. 5,500 mourners attended their funeral in Raleigh, North Carolina the next day. In Montreal that evening, McGill held its own candlelight vigil in their memory. Despite the harsh winter weather and unforgiving wind-chill, a large crowd gathered in front of the Arts Building to pay their respects to Deah, Yusor, and Razan, and to protest the anti-religious sentiments that may have led to this heartbreaking shooting. Excerpts of the Qur’an were recited and moments of silence were observed before candles, photos, and posters were tucked into the snow. Throughout the U.S. and overseas, dozens of other candlelight vigils have been held in their memory.

(© Amru Salahuddien 2015)

Though Deah, Yusor, and Razan are gone, their memory and their legacies live on. The Facebook page created as a tribute to the three has garnered over 180,000 likes. Deah’s online fundraising campaign for his trip this summer has raised nearly $500,000 – well over his goal of $20,000. North Carolina State University recently announced the creation of a scholarship fund in honour of Deah, Yusor, and Razan. We will not soon forget Deah, Yusor, Razan, or the differences they made.


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McGill candelight vigil photos courtesy of Amru Salahuddien (© Amru Salahuddien 2015)