Orange County

Deah Barakat called ‘pure’ and an ‘angel’

Deah Barakat was featured in a video for Project Rescue Smiles to raise money and awareness to provide dental care for Syrian refugees.
Deah Barakat was featured in a video for Project Rescue Smiles to raise money and awareness to provide dental care for Syrian refugees. PROJECT: REFUGEE SMILES

Deah Barakat was known as a stellar student, an energetic volunteer, a basketball fan and a hugger.

Barakat, 23, was studying to be a dentist at UNC-Chapel Hill, where his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, had planned to enroll in the fall. The newlyweds were shot dead at their condo Tuesday along with Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.

Barakat and his wife were married Dec. 27 in Raleigh and honeymooned in Mexico. Their wedding photos circulated worldwide on social media Wednesday – a poignant image of two lives at the beginning of a journey that turned out to be just six weeks long. The couple had planned someday to open a dental practice together.

But first, Barakat had an ambitious plan to buy toothbrushes, toothpaste and equipment for a trip to Turkey this summer, where he and other dental school colleagues would treat Syrian refugee children. He recorded a YouTube video to raise money for the trip.

“These kids don’t have access to the same health care as us, and their prolonged pain can easily be taken care of with the work that we do, but we need the proper funding,” he said, wearing a “Carolina Dentistry” T-shirt. “So let’s relieve their pain. If you want to make a difference in the life of a child most in need, then I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity.”

By 6 p.m. Wednesday, Barakat’s plea had been heard. The site had raised more than $120,000 – well surpassing the $20,000 goal.

Reaching the Syrian people was important to Barakat, whose family was of Syrian descent. He had spent time there as a child with his family, learning the language and culture.

But he was born and raised in Raleigh, the son of Namee and Layla Barakat, with an older brother and sister and a large extended family in the area. He attended Broughton High School and then N.C. State University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in business in 2013.

He was also crazy about basketball, recently tweeting “Let’s Go Pack!” and video of Trevor Lacey’s buzzer-beater for the Wolfpack. Last week, though, he revealed a little Tar Heel, posting on the day of Dean Smith’s death: “UNC lost a legend today.”

Namee Barakat said his son was “as pure as you could get.”

“He never had any arguments with anybody,” he said outside a news conference Wednesday. “Everybody loved him inside the community and outside the community.”

The deaths Tuesday sparked international outrage and a social media campaign with the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter.

Deah Barakat himself was baffled by religious hatred and violence. He tweeted on Jan. 28: “It’s so freaking sad to hear people saying we should ‘kill Jews’ or ‘Kill Palestinians’. As if that’s going to solve anything.”

Abdel Kader Barakat remembered that his cousin, as a small child, once gave his sandwich to a homeless man. Years later, as a dental student, he posted photos of himself and other students helping the homeless in Durham.

“He was pretty much an angel,” Abdel Barakat said. “He would hug you three times in an hour. I am serious. He is just one of a kind.”

Staff writer Sarah Barr contributed to this report.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer