Memorials to honor 3 students slain in Chapel Hill

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Remembering 3 students
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Memorials will cherish the memory of three students gunned down in Chapel Hill a year ago.

CHAPEL HILL (WTVD) -- It has been one year since Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu Salha, and her sister Razan Abu Salha were gunned down in Chapel Hill.

Several events marking the anniversary are being planned at NC State and the University of North Carolina.

"You're just consumed with sadness and you have to survive every day," said Dr. Mohammed Abu Salha, as he shares what this past year has been like since his two daughters and son-in-law were gunned down.

On Feb. 10, 2015, police responded to a shooting in the Finley Forest Condominiums just east of UNC's campus.

ORIGINAL STORY: Three students gunned down in Chapel Hill

A day later, a neighbor was charged with the murders. Craig Stephen Hicks has been sitting in jail ever since awaiting trial on the three first-degree murder charges. Right now the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Middle District of North Carolina is still trying to determine whether this qualifies as a hate crime.

"We believe this was a hate crime, have no doubt about that," Dr. Abu Salha said.

At the time of the killings, Barakat and Yusor Abu Salha were newlyweds, just married that December. Barakat was enrolled at the UNC School of Dentistry and his wife had just completed her biology degree at NC State and planned to begin her dental studies at UNC.

Razan attended NC State and was studying architecture and environmental design. She was visiting her sister and brother-in-law at their condo when the shooting happened.

"How many doctors have you seen in our life who have read their children's autopsies in details," said Dr. Abu Salha, who said his daughters were shot execution style and Deah was shot multiple times.

Yusor's mother, Amira Bamyeh, said she remembers witnessing anger and tension from Hicks toward her daughter and recalled a time when she was helping her daughter move things into the condo from their car.

"I was standing near the trunk and Yusor took one of boxes, and she was on her way to the apartment and then Hicks came, started to talk to her, his voice was really angry and loud," Bamyeh said.

She said she offered to go talk to Hicks on her daughter's behalf.

"She said 'no mom, he doesn't like me', he mentioned to her, I don't like you, I don't like the way you look and the way you dress' and so I told her let me talk to him she said 'no mom please don't talk to him; don't confront him. We want to be like neighbors so maybe with the time he will know us and he will like us hopefully,' " Bamyeh recalled.

Hicks' attorney has said he snapped over an ongoing parking dispute between him and his neighbors and that he did not do this out of hate.

"The night of the crime, our two daughters' cars were parked outside the parking lots. Our son-in-law Deah has already printed out a diagram of the parking lot and distributed to his friends and family telling them not to park in these spaces, that's how far they went to treat him nice," Dr. Abu Salha said.

During the past year, they've been talking to lawmakers, going to congressional hearings, working to strengthen hate-crime laws, saying the one in the books now doesn't have any teeth to it. Both families have been very active in trying to make a change, all while dealing with the grief of losing their children.

"This story by its nature has many roots in many areas, like gun control, refugee, Islam, bigotry and it's touching in a sensitive area of our time now. I think it lays on us a responsibility," said Deah's mother. Layla Barakat. "I will put my pain aside and carry the responsibility to the best that I can do to benefit everybody else."

While they wait to see how the legal system plays out, they're taking comfort in the many reminders of the positive impact their children had on so many.

RELATED: FBI report on Chapel Hill shootings being reviewed

"I went to the DMV last week and this lady looked at the paperwork and saw my son's name and she looked at me and said 'you know he helped build my home,' " said Namee Barakat, Deah's father.

Deah was involved in Habitat for Humanity. All three students were heavily involved in all types of service projects. From helping the homeless to healing smiles of Syrian refugees in Turkey through an organization called Refugee Smiles.

Before he was killed, Deah was working to bring dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. His father and brother picked up where he left off and during the course of two weeks helped more than 800 people. This is one of many works of service the families plan to continue.

In addition, there have been several awards and scholarships named in their honor.

"We raised children in faith who believed in their country, their community, who blended with their community very well and who excelled in school," Dr. Abu Salha said.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m. friends and family will gather at NC State's Stafford Commons for a "Day of Light" candlelight and prayer. Yusor's mother, Amira Bamyeh said there will also be a vigil at the UNC School of Dentistry at 1:30 pm. Then on Thursday at 7 p.m. there will be a tribute of poetry, images and video in an event called "Shattered Glass" at the Stewart Theatre at NC State.

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