Trying to Make Sense of Loss: The Chapel Hill Shootings

On Wednesday, three young Americans were shot, execution style, while in their home. The victims, all under 25 years old, included Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All three were well liked and charitable members of the community.

Deah, who studied dentistry, was known for organizing dentistry charity drives both for Syrian refugees in Turkey and his local homeless community. His wife, Yusor, had also volunteered with Syrian refugees while Razan studied architecture and environmental design.

Deah's work in the community made his loss even more poignant.

Deah’s work in the community made his loss even more poignant.

Deah’s father, who arrived at the crime scene while police were still conducting an investigation, can be seen here on video pleading with police to know whether or not his son was alive or dead.

Craig Stephen Hicks, their neighbor and the man who shot them, has not yet given a reason for their murder. Scouring his Facebook page, he seems positively average. Other than being a “militant atheist” (a title he gave himself), he often posted funny pictures of animals, posts in favor of gay marriage and anti-discrimination memes. His wife Karen Hicks referred to him as “championing the rights of others.” Yet below the surface, it seems Hicks was simmering with rage.

Hicks was described as “always angry” by his neighbors, while his ex-wife Cynthia Hurley described him as having “no compassion at all.” Indeed, different friends of the Barakats have come forward to talk about run-ins with Hicks and his attempts to intimidate them. Amira Ata, a long time friend of Yusor, describes a night at their house:

“In October or November, we went to dinner at Yusor and Deah’s house. Right after we left, Yusor heard a knock at the door and it was Hicks. She told us he was angry and said we were noisy and there were two extra cars in the neighborhood. We used visitor parking but he was still mad. He said we woke up his wife. It wasn’t that dark yet. It wasn’t late. And it wasn’t that loud…While he was at the door talking to Yusor, he was holding a rifle, she told me later. He didn’t point it at anyone, but he still had it. Yusor called to check on us after we left, to make sure he hadn’t approached us.”

The father of Yusor and Razan also describes how this harassment began after Yusor and Deah were married. Deah, by all accounts, could easily pass for your average white college student. Yet Yusor, with her headscarf, clearly marked the couple as Muslim. Her father explains, “My daughter, Yusor, honest to God, told us on more than two occasions that this man came knocking at the door and fighting about everything with a gun on his belt, more than twice. She told us, ‘Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look.’”

Yusor dances with her father during her wedding / Facebook

Yusor dances with her father during her wedding. Photo via Facebook

In the wake of Charlie Hedbo attacks and multiple gruesome murders from the Islamic State, there has been a rise in anti-Muslim attacks and anger across the globe. Because of this, many Muslims within the local community, including the parents of the victims, believe this is a hate crime. Although Hick’s current wife says this has to do with disputes over parking spots, many believe that is just a farce, to set up a mental illness defense for Hicks.

Nihad Awad, who works for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stated that because of the Muslim attire and the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in America, they “urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case.”

Chapel Hill police Chief Chris Blue told reporters that “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated, and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case.”

Whether it was motivated by a parking space or by his extreme hate of religion, or a mix of both, what remains is that three promising lives were snuffed out forever. These lives were joyous ones, that displayed compassion and service when confronted with the needs of others. It is a loss best summed up by one of Yusor’s best friends, Amira Ata:

“I used to speak to her every day, we won’t be able to do that anymore. He took so much — from me, from this family, from this community. You saw the people coming out [for the vigils]. You see how loved, how respected they were. We all have to suffer this loss, and for what? If the roles were reversed you would have a huge terrorist problem in the headline. That’s the funny thing.

We’re just taking it slow. Looking at pictures, remembering her. Tonight, there’s something at seven o’clock. I know the funeral isn’t today.

I can’t believe it’s only 11 o’ clock. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Mark Verbossche
Mark Verbossche3 years ago

Maybe when muslims around the world stop killing people in the name of their religion, and stop trying to force sharia law wherever they go, will non-death cult followers stop feeling so threatened and doing things like this.

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 years ago

@ Halee: We don't worry about what some supposed deity thinks any more than we worry about "Fairies and Sprites" in the garden

The difference is there seems to be more evidence for "monsters under the bed" and "fairies and sprites" than any god

No, we don't worry about making our excuses for any deity is some afterlife

We worry now about people and make our apologies to the living, now

Yeah, the guy who shot those kids was an atheist, or claimed to be. Yet when we see all of the slaughter over religious differences, we're at a 1 to 1,000,000 ratio of atheist to religious murderous scumbags?

Yeah, equivocate, that's the best you can do.

OBTW, you don't need a "Deity" to have a religion. Any dogmatic, unquestionable set of dictums and rules qualifies. Buddhism, they have no "god", is a religion. So is Marxism (but they have a "god" in Marx)

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 years ago

@ Halee M: Sorry, Atheists have no creed to hate anything

While most of don't like having other people rub their religion in our faces and demand that we give the same reverence to their magical sky daddy, we as a whole "don't hate religion"

What we don't like are being compared to real pieces of trash like the KKK and ISIS, where their are tenants they can read in their holy book of bovine scat from their pedophilia leaning prophets on how to enslave people

The Atheism has no tenets, no creed, no "you must do this". Atheism is a "religion" like "not stamp collecting" is a hobby

I feel sorry for theists and their slavish devotion to pathetic mad gods dreamt up in the minds of illiterate and misogynistic barbarians

Halee M.
Halee M4 years ago

This tragedy is heart breaking at so many levels.
Three young, beautiful, productive citizens living life with a noble mission and dying at the hands of an unemployed useless scumbag.
I pity the atheist apologists.
Fact of the matter is.....
Atheists hate religion with equal fervour as any of the other haters.
That makes them no better than ISIS or the KKK.
Maybe even worse.
After all....they believe they have no one to account to in the afterlife.

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 years ago

The guy who did the shooting is a self-described atheist

As an atheist myself, it wasn't atheism that drove him. Atheism is just saying there is no evidence for any of the gods people claim they believe in. "Rejecting any god" is like saying you "reject monsters under the bed"

But getting back to our twisted shooter, he threatened more than just those three. He was a violent man who beat his wife, hoarded guns, threatened many people at his apartment complex. In a word, he was a dick

As for calling upon some disgusting "god" to keep this from happening, as the belief in the gods is responsible for so much of the misery humans have faced, let's get rid of those childish ideas. Like dropping Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Monsters under the bed, etc., when people grow up, they leave behind the make believe and embrace reality

Sunni vs Shia vs Sufi or Catholics vs Lutherans vs Baptists vs (insert another christian sect here) or Sikh vs Muslim vs Christian, religion poisons humanity

Olivia Dawson
Olivia Dawson4 years ago

It does matter if the attack was motivated by poor Deah, Yusor and Razan's faith. If they were shot for being Muslim it undermines American Muslims' sense of safety & belonging in their own country, which is a terrible, terrible thing.

Rest in Peace

Debbie Miller
Debbie Miller4 years ago

This is tragic, as are all the shootings that we have been seeing so commonly in the last 10 years or so!! People have forgotten that we are all brothers and sisters and that we each have the spirit of God within...or this would not happen!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C4 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 years ago

The "Why?" is what happens when you let the emotionally unstable arm themselves like the "Commies are commin'"