Deah Barakat in Project Refugee Smiles video
Members of Muslim, Christian and Jewish congregations across the Triangle gathered at the Islamic Association of Raleigh on Saturday to pack and sort thousands of pounds of donated food in honor of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, who were shot and killed four years ago.
“My brother was killed February 2015, and there was a large, national urge to do something,” said Farris Barakat.
One result of that urge was the first Interfaith Food Drive, which was held a month after the attack and collected enough to provide 21,000 meals to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
Saturday’s food drive, the fifth to honor the students, brought in enough donations for 67,000 meals, breaking last year’s record by more than 10,000.
“The sense of unity and the urgency to want to act that came in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shootings brought a lot of people together and allowed us to impact many lives,” Farris said. “This was one of the ways that we’ve been able to continue to do that.”
The latest food drive was hosted by the Light House Project, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Muslim youth throughout the Triangle, in collaboration with the N.C. State College of Design and the UNC School of Dentistry. Donations can be made online until Monday at www.foodbankcenc.org/goto/interfaithfooddrive.
Rebecca Collins, a member of Beth Shalom, a Reform Jewish temple south of Raleigh, loved that the food drive gave her a chance to interact with people of different faiths and cultures.
“Our temple does a lot of interfaith stuff, and I came last year,” said Collins. “I’ve always wanted to travel more, but I looked around last year and saw all these people of different faiths, where we have so much in common. This is better than any vacation.”
Leah Reed, Minister with Community for First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh, said her church has been collecting food throughout February and brought 15 volunteers, ages seven to 60, to help get the donations to the food bank.
“We don’t do enough together, I think, between Muslims, Christians and Jews,” Reed said. “We aren’t always the best at coming together for the good of our community. I just think this is what the kingdom of God looks like, people working together arm in arm for the common good of feeding people.”
Zainab Baloch, a childhood friend of the slain students, looks at the food drive as a way to continue their legacy rather than simply remember them.
“We choose to express our pain through service,” Baloch said.
Deah Barakat was studying at the UNC School of Dentistry, where his wife Yusor was about to start classes. Yusor’s sister Razan studied at the College of Design. But none of them let their busy schedules get in the way of intentionally serving the Triangle community, said Shadi Sadi, a friend to all three.
Deah’s last post on Facebook was of his and Yusor’s work volunteering with the homeless in Durham, and Sadi remembers how Razan would spend her Friday nights preparing food to give to people in downtown Raleigh.
“How many college students do you know that do that?” Sadi said. “There was something extra about these people, that they were making a choice to not stay stagnant.”
Chris Hicks, a neighbor, is accused of killing the students, reportedly following a dispute over a parking spot in the apartment complex.
“Was this guy mad about parking? Maybe. The neighbors will tell you that he was there for years and complained about that,” Sadi said. “But something changed when those Muslim girls moved in. He saw that hijab, and he put his gun to their heads and killed them.”
Hicks turned himself in the day after the shooting, but the case has not yet gone to trial.
’Efficient and just resolution’
Farris said he is confident that the trial for the man accused of killing his brother is coming.
“Maybe it’s just better for us to have time to heal a little bit, but at the same time I feel like justice should be swift,” Farris said. “The next person who thinks about doing something like this should know punishment awaits them.”
In a statement released this month, Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry said she has “committed the new Durham District Attorney’s Office to prioritizing the prosecution of violent crimes.”
“I am committed to an efficient and just resolution for all of Durham’s violent crimes,” Deberry said in the statement. “This case is now one of the oldest pending homicides in Durham. I am working to resolve litigation and progress this case towards trial. My heart is with the Abu-Salha and Barakat families on the fourth anniversary of the tragic murder of three wonderful young people. The loss of Deah, Yusor, and Razan has left a great hole in our community.”
Sadi also believes that the case is being given its due diligence and appreciates the work of investigators.
“This is a big case, and I think that the DA wants to give it the attention it deserves, and we respect that. From the very beginning this was important to them,” Sadi said. “I think they do care, and they’re making sure not to misstep.”
Baloch said she tries not to think too much about the trial yet, but that she wants to see the crime classified as more than a result of a dispute between neighbors.
“It needs to be classified as a hate crime,” Baloch said. “That’s what everyone is expecting from this community, that this will be classified as a hate crime. It won’t justify anything, but it will make it known that this was not a dispute.”
Others who volunteered at the food drive said they couldn’t understand why it has taken so long to see Hicks brought to trial.
“Knowing it was blatant hatred, knowing that it was a hate crime, and everyone is just quiet,” said Zara Hassan, who spent her morning volunteering with the food drive. “At the time there was an uproar, and then it stays stagnant for this long? That’s infuriating.”
Zainub Javed, who went to NCSU with Barakat as undergraduates, is sensitive to the pain a trial will cause.
“Having to wait five years is like reopening a wound that was a little numb,” Javed said. “It’s like everything’s going to resurface.”
But the food drive, Javed said, is a way to remember the three students for how they lived, not how they died.
“I feel really uplifted coming to events like this,” she said. “I feel like there’s a purpose to life, not just like getting somewhere and accomplishing your own goals but being a part of something bigger.”