Reader reactions to and reflections on the Chapel Hill shootings

Killed were, from left, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
Killed were, from left, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. OUR THREE WINNERS/FACEBOOK

Meredith Dangel, a lecturer in the English Department at NCSU and a resident of Chapel Hill, writes this to her students:

Dear students,

So far this semester, you’ve learned about the Greek words ethos, pathos, and logos. Today I want to teach you a new word: kairos.

Your textbook, The Wadsworth Guide to Research, claims kairos is when “you are in a situation that presents the need to communicate” (39). Look it up online and you’ll find definitions like “opportune moment.” The murders of three people, all NCSU students or alumni, last evening have presented me with kairos I can’t ignore.

Before we began class in January, you may have wondered why English 101 matters, how it affects your life, why you are here. You may still wonder. And, honestly, attending classes after a tragedy may feel meaningless. In dark times in my own life, I’ve certainly found myself questioning the meaning of things that once seemed familiar.

What I want to tell you today is that times like this are why we learn about rhetoric. This is why English 101 matters. Though I hope I have many more years ahead of me, I have lived long enough to see words change people, for better or for worse.

Words change not only the hearers but also the speakers. We are what we think. Craig Stephen Hicks allegedly used words of hate before this heinous crime. Did his words, both internal and external, lead to this violence? And, if so, where did the vitriol come from? Had he been exposed to hate that influenced his thoughts? All of the facts remain to be seen.

What we know for sure is that many more words will come in the days ahead. Social media, television, coffee shop conversation, academic classrooms… no space will be off limits. I implore you to use your words for good. Already I have seen vicious slander. We need not spew hate at America, the West, the East, the Middle East, Christians, atheists, Muslims, gun control advocates, gun rights activists, or anyone. We need not stoop to the level of those who perpetrate the very violence we say we abhor.

The pen has always been and will always be mightier than the sword. Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Winston Churchill. What did these world-changers have in common? Powerful rhetoric. It can be used for both good and evil. My hope and prayer is that you, the future world-changers (and maybe even the current ones), will use rhetoric to change yourselves and those around you for good. Use Twitter, Facebook, blogs, the Free Expression Tunnel, conversation, texts, or whatever you choose - but choose wisely.

I’ll end with this quotation, which you may have seen on your syllabus, spoken at NCSU in 2011:

“The goal of rhetoric and writing is to help us learn to live – and to live well and ethically and productively in the world.” –Andrea Lunsford, Director of Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University


From Megan Cassella, a senior journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill:

We heard about the shooting from news outlets first, not the university. We read tweets starting just before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that were shared widely and grew more upsetting as we read. Three people were shot, the reporters were saying; all had been killed, a suspect was in custody. They were saying it happened in Chapel Hill, but this is Chapel Hill, where things like this don’t happen.

We found out before the police told us that this was a classmate of ours, with his wife and her sister. All three of them, we learned, were friends of our friends, because this is a tight-knit campus and all of us are linked inextricably, somehow, to one another.

We saw that the three victims were Muslim. We whispered late-night in the library about how we we hoped this wasn’t a racial hate crime or an act of terror – because it couldn’t be, not on our ground. Condolences and remembrances flooded our social media feeds, signs of this community helping itself heal before word had yet spread beyond our small network. We knew we still had to find out what happened. We didn’t know the rest of the world would want to find out, too.

We woke up Wednesday morning under the harsh glare of an international spotlight, finding ourselves at the unlikely center of an unwelcome debate on oppression, exclusivity and hate. We heard the cops tell us and tell the world that this was a dispute over a parking space, but this community disregarded that statement on its face. Disputes over parking don’t end in three deaths.

The shooter’s true motive beneath his crime is still unconfirmed, and maybe it will always be that way. But to brush this tragedy off as a single incident – one angry man with three powerful bullets – is to ignore the larger, pressing tale that surrounds it: the story of religion in America. For Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, not to acknowledge their Muslim beliefs, and the hatred they faced from their outspoken atheist neighbor because of them, would be not to wholly acknowledge them at all.

Because this is Chapel Hill, where yarmulkes and hijabs mix in lecture halls and even the restrooms aren’t divided by gender. Chapel Hill, where thousands of men and women, black and white, Christian and Jewish and Muslim spent an hour in the cold at a vigil Wednesday night to honor three students because we knew they represented the best in us all, while their murders represented the worst in our country. On this campus we’ll band together and move on because we have to, but we’ll push ourselves toward further acceptance of one another because it is what we do.

Earlier this week, the UNC community lost Coach Dean Smith, a man renowned for his empathy and dedication to equal rights and opportunities. Earlier this month, we lost Stuart Scott, a man admired for his perseverance, his strength and his drive. Now, with three new losses heavy on our hearts, we have five legacies to honor as Tar Heels. And we will honor each one by living as they lived: compassionately, and with only each other’s best interests in mind – hoping, along the way, to create a community where Deah, Yusor and Razan would still be with us.


We are all Americans

Why can’t we all just get along and instead of categories just be called Americans! If we are a citizen of this great country drop the African, Chinese, Indian, etc., and just be proud to be called an American! There is enough turmoil going on around the United States and abroad fighting terrorism. We, as Americans, need to pull together to once again, unite us all as brothers and sisters for the same cause of making this wonderful country whole again.

Right now we are so far down the rabbit hole that we have lost our faith in government and each other. Pulling together as one America should be a good start in healing the country and making sure America stays focused and strong as a whole country and not fractured like so many others around the world.

United we stand and divided we fall. Stand up for America!

Beth Gorman



End of innocence

Walking across campus or down Franklin Street, I feel a palpable, almost desperate desire for Chapel Hill and UNC to return to a more innocent time. There is no need to list the incidents that generate this desire; they are headline news.

When the most recent killings were broadcast on BBC recently, I was struck by how worldly Chapel Hill is. My concern is that the yearning for innocence blinds us to the need for community action that addresses the need for sensitivity and patience – a requisite if we are to love our neighbors.

We can no longer make an obscene gesture or an off-handed comment about something that was once was, in the scheme of things, as trivial as a parking space. The launch buttons are close to the surface in this world, including Chapel Hill.

Wallace McLendon

Chapel Hill


Barakat will be missed

Regarding the Feb. 12 news article “ Slain students mourned amid outrage, claims of hate crime”: Deah Barakat, a dental student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, was murdered along with his wife and sister-in-law.

Deah Barakat was born Muslim. I was born Jewish. Regardless of our heritages he became a good friend of mine. Deah enrolled in dental school at UNC so that he could provide dentistry to poor children without dental care. He didn’t wait to finish dental school to live his vision.

While still in school he recently volunteered to provide dental care to underserved children in North Carolina. He also planned to travel to Turkey to provide dental care to Syrian refugees. He was a lovely compassionate human being.

Every time he saw me he gave me a hug and a smile. He knew I was Jewish, I knew he was Muslim. It didn’t matter.

People of all faiths are individuals. Some, like Deah are loving, caring individuals who seek to make the world a better place. Others use religion as dogma to rationalize and gain support for their own agenda of hate.

I plead to my fellow American and world citizens to recognize people as individuals, not as stereotyped Muslims, Christians, Jews or political party advocates. Blame or praise individuals, not organizations, for their actions.

Deah had a life of service, family and caring ahead of him. The world will suffer by him not being here.

Jay Mosesson

Chapel Hill


Mourning ‘a lovely person’

I write this through tears. Sad tears. Angry tears. Yusor Abu-Salha was a student of mine in two classes at NCSU. She told me she took my physiology class because her husband-to-be had taken it with me the year before and he liked me. She was also my advisee.

I remember how excited she was when she came to my office showing me her engagement ring. I remember her timid request for a letter of recommendation to dental school. I remember handing her diploma to her at graduation. She was quietly intelligent and humble, kind and articulate. She was a pleasure to have in class. She would stop by my office to talk about an article she read, how she was doing in her other classes, her wedding plans.

I can’t begin to imagine how devastated her family is. I’m devastated. It doesn’t matter to me what the shooter’s motive is; there is no justification for his crime.

I know very little about Muslim culture. I grew up in a small coastal town in Florida with very little diversity. But I know there are good, kind, decent people who are Muslim, Christian and atheist. I know there are good, kind, decent people who are Republican, Democrat, and Independent. There are also angry, violent people in all of the above groups.

I have no doubt that the shooter (I refuse to write his name) knew nothing about Yusor and her family. It didn’t matter to him. He was angry and violent, and she was good, kind and decent. If we have to label people, then we should look at their character – not their religion, their race or their culture.

When I got to school recently, I pulled up the letter of recommendation I wrote for her in May. I wrote about her kindness and empathy. I wrote about her ability to make everyone in her class group feel like they were included. She was really a lovely person – inside and out.

I mourn as a member of the NCSU community, and I mourn as a Chapel Hill resident.

Lisa Parks

Chapel Hill


A crime of hatred

Regarding the Feb. 12 news article “ Slain students mourned amid outrage, claims of hate crime”: The recent shootings of the Muslim students at Chapel Hill may or may not fit the accepted definition of a “hate crime.” However, isn’t all murder, regardless of whether it is for religious reasons or some other reason, a hate crime? Even in a moment of rage that ends in a shooting and a death, isn’t there that moment of hate that fuels the rage?

To paraphrase a recent protest slogan that “black lives matter” we should remember that all lives matter.

Edgar Taylor



Of the 15 reactions to the slaying of the students published by the N&O, all but one ignored the elephant in the room: that this tragedy is a direct consequence of the easy availability of guns, which in turn is driven by the fantasy perpetuated by the gun lobby that more guns make us safer. Actually, the opposite is true. Europeans view our unbelievably lax gun laws as a peculiarly American disease. We have more guns per capita than any nation on the planet. We will hear the usual statements about senseless acts of violence, but our gutless leaders will do nothing about the underlying problem. Of course there will be the usual passionate defenders of the 2nd amendment, an anachronism if there ever was one. It’s sickening.

Stephen Norton



From Omar Baloch, an immigration attorney in Raleigh:

In the summer of 1863, the city of New York became embroiled in what is historically known as the New York City Draft Riots. Prior to the New York City Draft Riots, members of the media wrote and published hateful and bigoted articles against blacks in the prominent newspapers of that time. Many of these articles were outlandishly derogatory. It made blacks appear to be less than human. When the draft riots began, there existed an environment of visceral hate and this hate fueled the rioters into attacking blacks throughout the city. In one of the most horrifying hate crimes of our country, the rioters attacked and attempted to kill black orphans at the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. People were trying to kill orphan children, the weakest members of our society. During World War II our country placed US citizens of Japanese descent into internment camps. The environment of fear, prejudice, intolerance, misunderstanding, anger and hate made interment of U.S. citizens possible.

On Feb. 10, Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and his sister-in-law, Razan Abu-Salha, were killed in Chapel Hill in what is an obvious hate crime.

As I read through the variety of Facebook comments, Twitter comments and other online commentary, a vast number of people made crude Islamophobic comments. It’s not just an issue of Islamophobia, though. Intolerance in general has gained traction throughout this country. People of different colors, faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds are looked at with disdain.

Islamophobia is spreading like a vicious virus throughout our country. In Texas, American citizens belonging to the Islamic faith who were attempting to do their civic duty by learning and visiting their state Capitol were heckled at. People held up signs telling American citizens to go home. A Texas lawmaker Molly White said, “I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” she said on Facebook. “We will see how long they stay in my office.” Molly White, a Texas lawmaker, should have had only two flags in her office, the flag of the state of Texas and the flag of the United States. I think the state of Texas and the United States government should question her loyalty.

These types of violent hate crimes will only increase if we as a society allow this disease of hate to spread. Our society needs to have a national conversation about Islamophobia. We cannot let an environment of hate overcome our principles. It is my sincere hope that my children can grow up in the same environment of understanding, mutual respect, and tolerance that I grew up in. I believe they will because the laws of our great country are founded on the ideas of tolerance, equality, religious freedom, and understanding. I believe they will because the people of this great state have consistently demonstrated their commitment to kindness, tolerance, equality, religious freedom,- and understanding.