It was Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The air was crisp and the sky was clear; all the constellations were visible. It was a beautiful day in the piedmont of the Old North State. Campus buzzed that day as usual, and like just another day, nothing seemed to detract from the busy lives of the students. But by the evening of that Tuesday, it was clear that the day had progressed into something far from a usual day with nice weather. There were rumors of a shooting on campus. There was not an alert from the local police department until 7:20 PM, two hours after the alleged shooting occurred at 5:11 PM at a nearby neighborhood called Summerwalk Circle. The email indicated that it was a triple homicide, but names of the victims were not being released. A flurry of concerned social media sites peppered students’ dashboards. Students waited nervously to find out if the threat was active. At 11:12 PM, students were alerted by the campus’s emergency notification system that a person of interest was being questioned. By the next morning, the names of the victims had been released along with the following report:
At 5:11 PM today, Chapel Hill Police Officers responded to a report of gunshots in the area of Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill. When officers arrived, they located three subjects who had been shot. All three subjects were pronounced dead at the scene.
The Chapel Hill Police Department has arrested Craig Stephen Hicks, 46 years of age, of Chapel Hill. Mr. Hicks has been charged with 3 counts of 1st Degree Murder for the murders of:
Deah Shaddy Barakat 23 years of age of Chapel Hill,
Yusor Mohammad 21 years of age of Chapel Hill, and
Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha 19 years of age of Raleigh.
Mr. Hicks is currently being held in the Durham County Jail.
Within a few hours, the hashtag #ChapelHillShooting was trending world wide with cries to Western media reporters to not ignore the issue that three young Muslim students were brutally murdered in act that could only be decried as a hate crime. The community rallied Wednesday evening in a beautiful vigil to celebrate the lives of three beautiful young people whose lives were just beginning and to promote a response of peace, not violence or hatred. The quiet community of Chapel Hill had been rocked and arguably forever changed by an act that could only be compared to the murder of student body president Eve Carson in 2008.
In a quiet college town, both residents and students do not expect such random acts of violence to occur, but with the loss of Deah, Yusor, and Razan, the community had to acknowledge hatred still exists, even in a liberal community like Chapel Hill.
As a student, it was shocking to not only hear of a shooting happening so close to campus, but also the suspicions surrounding the motivation of Craig Stephen Hicks. Hicks reportedly murdered the students over parking disputes; the students of not only UNC but also NC State took a very different take on the cause of the murders. Many students have changed their social media profile pictures to a silhouette image of Deah, Yusor, and Razan to coincide with the message of the vigil on Wednesday. The response from the student body has been incredible: not only are students calling members of the Triangle area to remember the three young victims, but they are also calling for the attention of the media. This event is one that will forever blemish the image of a peaceful community, but it is also one that will hopefully move community members to remember the importance of tolerance. Unfortunately, even from students, negative, racially charged responses arose on Yik Yak following the news. However, this intolerance is once again combatted with the overwhelming support students have shown not only with the vigil—which was attended by over one thousand people—but with the constant discourse taking place on social media.
The Chapel Hill community will never be the same. There is no question about this. The murder of three innocents has opened many people’s eyes to the existence of active racism in the community towards many different minorities. It is not only sickening that this kind of hatred still exists, but it is something that has motivated many to start conversations about racism in the community. Many classes across campus spent the days following the incident discussing the effects of the murders and applying them to the courses of studies. The most important thing to remember is that the deaths of Yusor, Razan, and Deah are not just learning tools. They are not numbers. They are not just a means of starting conversations about racism. They are not names to be forgotten while the murderer’s name is splashed all across the news. They are lives that cannot be made up for; they are great losses to not only the academic community, but to the world. They are people who deserved more than to fall victim to religious intolerance. As I walk around campus, I see signs of remembrance. These should not fade away. This conversation is one that cannot wane out. What was lost last week cannot be replaced. The community is forever changed by this loss and forever awakened by the conversations that have been started.
In remembrance of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad.