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Four Years After Chapel Hill Shooting, Victims' Families Seek Closure

Adhiti Bandlamudi
Farris Barakat speaks to students at Al Iman School in Raleigh. His brother, Deah Barakat, was killed in 2015.

On February 10th, 2015, Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her younger sister Razan, were killed in their apartment. This month marks the four year anniversary of their deaths. The family is still waiting on a trial date to be set.

Farris Barakat is Deah's older brother. He believes this year might finally hold a trial date, but he and his family are preparing themselves for what emotional baggage that could bring. 

Driving out this darkness with light is the thing we can be doing now, is the work that we can do. And to that end, I feel like I've been pretty focused and effective. -Farris Barakat

"Ultimately, I think we look for closure, potentially, but I think we're told time and again that don't really expect that from the trial," Barakat said. "There's not going to be any kind of result that's going to guarantee us some kind of closure." 

He says he has been involving himself in his community as a way to cope. Two years after his brother's death, Farris opened a house Deah owned as a resource center for local youth groups. He called it The Light House project, because "Deah" means light in Arabic.

"Driving out this darkness with light is the thing we can be doing now, is the work that we can do. And to that end, I feel like I've been pretty focused and effective," Barakat said. 

Since 2015, Barakat has held an annual interfaith food drive. The proceeds go to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. Razan would frequently hand out food at Raleigh's Moore Square. Deah and Yusor would provide free dental supplies for the homeless. Farris feels like this food drive is a good way to channel the community's grief into a proactive project. 

A week before the anniversary, Barakat gave a speech at his alma matter, Al Iman school, a private Muslim school in Raleigh. He spoke to elementary and middle schoolers about loss.

Many of the students in the audience had personal connections to Deah, Yusor, and Razan. Amani Mustafa, an eighth grader, remembers that day. 

"I was starting to imagine what it would have been like if I lost one of my siblings and I had just gotten into a fight with one of them," Mustafa said. "I got home that same day and apologized for everything." 

She says, in the aftermath, she felt nervous being a Muslim in America. That year, when she was shopping in Walmart with her father, she was called a "terrorist" for wearing a hijaab, a head covering some Muslim women wear. 

"I was petrified and I could barely walk. My dad would not let me walk around the store with my brother, he wanted me to stay next to him, that way he could defend me and protect me," she said. 

Farris Barakat feels that his brother's death forced the country to face its bigotry. 

"Four years ago, we were advocating for the notion that Islamophobia exists and many just decided to ignore it on the sense that we're not that bad as a country," Barakat said. "For a big group of us, it's difficult to kind of agree that it is a great country. I think the promise of this country is great, where we are in our implementation is not." 

He says, it's all about the stories we tell each other and how that defines the way we look at things. He says, on the night of his brother's death, the police concluded that a neighbor killed the students over a parking dispute. Since then, Barakat feels the story around their death has changed and become part of a bigger discussion about prejudice, justice and hope. 

"If we look at Rosa Parks as this long dispute over a bus seat, it's different than really contextualizing it and understanding the work, the problems we have as a community, and the work we have to do to overcome it," Barakat said. 

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