SHAFAQNA – Three young American Muslims were brutally murdered on Tuesday, February 10, by a gunman who shot them in the head, leaving the Muslim community bewildered with shock and sadness.
“What a senseless, mind-numbing tragedy. Nothing compares to the fear a parent experiences worrying about their children,” Zainab Chaudry, Maryland Outreach Manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations, wrote on her Facebook page.
“My thoughts and prayers are especially with the father who tried to make his way up to the apartment, only to be blocked by police and crisis counselors.
“May Allah grant the entire community patience and comfort during this horrific ordeal. My heart is unbelievably heavy tonight.”
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23 his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21 and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were found dead at a condominium complex off campus.
The gunman, identified by the Independent as 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, reportedly turned himself into police.
The Chapel Hill Police Department said in a statement it was questioning a person of interest in the crime “and has reason to believe that there is no ongoing threat to the public”.
Police officers reportedly responded to report of gunshots in the area around Summerwalk Circle at 5pm to find the three young Muslims pronounced dead at the scene with shots in the head.
Barakat is an American football and basketball fan. He is believed to be a dental student at the University of North Carolina and volunteered with a charity providing emergency dental care to children in Palestine.
He regularly posted on Twitter, and wrote in January: “It’s so freaking sad to hear people saying we should ‘kill Jews’ or ‘kill Palestinians’. As if that’s going to solve anything.”
The youngest victim, Razan, had started a degree at North Carolina State University last summer, studying Architecture and Environmental Design, and her Twitter biography read: “I like buildings and other stuff.”
The three victims were recently pictured together at the graduation of his sister-in-law, Razan, who ran a blog showing her interest in photography and art.
Shocked with the murder, Muslims launched a community Facebook page in the memory of the three victims, called “Our Three Winners”.
The page thanked people for their support and said it would carry “official announcements”.
“It sorrows us all to see what has happened here today,” another statement read.
“Please rely on each other and remember these beautiful souls in your happy thoughts. Their faith meant a lot to them, and it is in fact what helps us all feel at peace with the tragedy of their murder.”
Though it is not clear whether the page was set up by the family or no, it carried news that funeral arrangements would follow pending an update from the medical examiner.
Barakat, a Syrian-American, majored in business administration and management at NCSU before enrolling at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013 to pursue his doctorate in dental surgery.
According to News Observer, he and his young wife Yusor advocated for global dental health, providing care and supplies to people in the United States and the Middle East.
On Jan. 29, Barakat posted a Facebook photo of a Durham project that gave dental supplies and food to more than 75 homeless people this year.
Barakat was scheduled to travel with 10 other dentists this summer to Reyhanli, Turkey, in a campaign organized by UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry and the Syrian-American Medical Society.
There, they planned to treat Syrian refugee students for urgent dental needs, pass out toothbrushes and toothpaste, and support Turkish dentists and clinics in “Project: Refuge Smiles”.
Since 9/11, American Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was targeting their faith.