GREENSBORO — Muna Sharma saw the news Wednesday and thought, “That could have been me.”
Her sister is Palestinian, and her sister’s husband Syrian.
And they had been planning on living in the same condominium complex where Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Abu-Salha’s sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot to death Tuesday evening.
“There is no justification for this,” said Sharma, whose brother-in-law was a cousin of Barakat’s. “Deah lived his life, helping everyone. That’s how his family is. They just don’t understand how something like this could happen.”
Two Greensboro Muslim student organizations will gather today to remember the college students who were slain Tuesday evening.
As Chapel Hill police work to establish a motive in the slaying of three Muslim family members, Muslims in the Triad expressed concern over the slayings. Sharma was one of a few hundred students who gathered for a vigil Wednesday evening on the lawn in front of the Elliott University Center at UNC-Greensboro. A vigil was also held at Guilford College.
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Chapel Hill police arrested Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of 270 Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill in connection with the shootings.
Barakat was a dental student at UNC-Chapel Hill. As recently as Jan. 29 he provided free dental supplies in downtown Durham, according to his Facebook page. He also raised money through YouCaring.com for Syrian Dental Relief to provide dental care to Syrian refugee students in Turkey.
The fundraising goal was $20,000. By late Wednesday night, donations had topped $164,000.
Yusor Abu-Salha was studying human biology at N.C. State, according to her Facebook page. She and Barakat had just married in December.
Razan Abu-Salha was a student at N.C. State and a graduate of Athens Drive High, according to her Facebook page. She was studying architecture and environmental design.
Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder Tuesday evening and is being held in the Durham County jail without bail, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office website.
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His next court date is March 4, according to the Durham County Clerk of Court’s office. He has been assigned a public defender.
Hicks is cooperating with police, according to a news release from the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Police said an initial investigation leads them to believe the three were killed as the result of a dispute over parking.
Many people questioned that explanation, however, categorizing the shooting deaths as a hate crime.
“I do not see any reason in killing people for only (a) parking issue,” said Guilford College sophomore Aiperi Yusupova, 20.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said his department would “exhaust every lead to determine” if the case is hate-motivated.
“We understand the concerns about the possibility,” Blue said.
Yusupova, who is the president of Guilford College’s Muslim Student Association, said she was worried for Muslims everywhere after the shootings.
“I became very worried for my sisters and brothers of faith despite the fact that Guilford College is a very open and safe place for everyone,” she said.
At the UNCG vigil, student Roy Berry-Makki of Chapel Hill said his mother had called him before class and asked him to “please stay at home.”
“I said, ‘Mom, everything is going to be OK,’ ” he said. “It’s important for me to go to class, be where I’m supposed to be. You can’t be afraid of who you are, your identity, no matter your race, no matter where you are. We don’t know what can happen at any moment, but I had to really be where I had to be, to show I’m not scared.”
Mufeed M. Basti, a chemistry professor at N.C. A&T and a Muslim from Syria, said he hopes the media will give the slaying of the three the same attention other minorities and religions receive.
“Hopefully the American media will cover it as widely as any other incident, if it does turn out to be a hate crime,” Basti said. “Some crimes against Muslims aren’t publicized the same way as crimes against other religions.”
Contact Sarah Newell Williamson at (336) 373-7076, and follow @snewell_NR on Twitter.
Contact Robert C. Lopez at (336) 691-5091, and follow @rclopezNR on Twitter.