As police look into the possible motivations for a horrendous shooting incident that left three bright, promising young people dead in a rented condominium complex in Chapel Hill, friends and family grieve. But the grieving goes beyond that circle.
The victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were tremendous people who had big plans to have a positive impact on humankind.
Barakat was a doctoral student in dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a magna cum laude graduate of N.C. State who literally wanted to make the world a better and healthier place, particularly for children. This summer, he was to go to Turkey with 10 other dentists to treat Syrian refugee children and help Turkish dentists and clinics.
For a 23-year-old to have his depth of concern for, and understanding of, the needs of others far away was profoundly moving. In a video making a plea for donations for his work, he said in part, “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.”
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His wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, was like-minded and also was pursuing graduate work in dentistry after graduating with honors from NCSU. The two were neighbors of the man arrested and charged in the killings. Razan Abu-Salha was a Dean’s List student in architecture and environmental design at N.C. State.
What we know then of these young people is that they were ambitious, motivated students with a generous concern for others.
That makes the loss of their lives all the more painful. What wonderful things they might have done.
Suspect opposed religion
The man charged in the slayings, Craig Stephen Hicks, described himself on his Facebook page as an atheist and appeared to be antagonistic toward those who followed a religion.
But the motivation for the shootings, while under the scrutiny of two United States Attorneys’ offices, remains unclear.
It is not so for the father of the two young women. Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist with a practice in Clayton, believes the shootings were a hate crime because the victims were Muslim. He says one of his daughters told him she had a “hateful neighbor.”
Early parts of the investigation have focused on a possible dispute over a parking place, but Dr. Abu-Salha doesn’t buy it. He says Hicks talked to his daughter and her husband “with his gun in his belt.”
Authorities review cause
Tensions involving the perceptions of Muslims and the persecution of some are great all over the world now. And, though this investigation hasn’t been determined a “hate crime,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker of North Carolina’s Eastern District is keeping an eye on it.
“The Muslim community,” he said, “has been good partners with law enforcement on a variety of fronts. We think it’s appropriate to closely monitor the investigation to determine any motivation in this case.”
As always with such a crime, police and other investigators have to look at firearms involved and whether their ownership was legal. But legal or not, there can be little doubt that the presence of a gun before or during an argument increases the likelihood that tragedy will occur.
The university communities have joined the mourning and will continue to monitor the progress of any investigation. As with the 2008 murder of Eve Carson, UNC-CH student body president, a violent crime has robbed these students’ families and their community of their lives and all they might have meant to others.