By Sukhmani Kaur
On February 10, three Muslim students—Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha (21) and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19)—were shot to death at their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The married couple, Deah and Yusor, was attending the University of North Carolina as dentistry students while Yusor’s sister, Razan was a student at a university nearby.
The perpetrator behind this crime was their neighbor, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks. Six days after the shooting, the grand jury in Durham charged Hicks with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling. Hicks had a notorious reputation amongst his neighbors for reportedly having conflicts with the Muslim family over parking disputes.
“Yusor and Deah told us that one time [Hicks] knocked on the door and told them they were being too loud, with his gun at his waist. I knew in my head this was hate because of who my sister was and how she looked—she wore the headscarf proudly,” Yousef Abu-Salha, brother of the two sisters, said in an interview with the New York Times (NYT).
Although the Chapel Hill Police Department claims that the crime was committed over an ongoing dispute over parking spaces, others such as the Barakat-Abu Salha family, Muslim community, and other civil rights groups claim the event was a hate crime.
Due to the abundant amount of evidence, over 150 of these groups have asked for a federal hate crime investigation from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Despite these views, many people have failed to realize the effect religious criticism had in the crime. Leaders of various religious groups criticize the media for not considering the crime to be on the basis of religious hatred. These individuals believe that the incident has led to a rise of anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia in the United States.
“My daughter, Yusor, complained, and she told us she felt that man hated them for the way they looked and the Muslim garb they wore,” said the father of the two sisters to MSNBC News.
Despite the tragedy of these three Muslim students, they are still an inspiration to people all around. They were all devoted in helping the Syrian and Palestinian refugees, something they were passionate about. Although they were aware of the bad relationship they had with Hikes, the teens did not reciprocate the same attitude.
“My sister sympathized with him. She said maybe this man has been influence negatively by the media and she was going to show him the truth about Muslims by showing him kindness,” Salha said in an interview with NYT.
On February 12, a public funeral was held at the North Carolina State University with 5,500 people. Another candlelight ceremony was held at Brickyard, where 3,000 students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community attended to remember the short life of the three young and cherished individuals.