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Episode 2: Searching for Light

In episode two, host Will McInerney talks with reporter Reema Khrais about her personal connections to the Chapel Hill Shootings, and Will travels to the Syrian border to visit a dental clinic named in honor of Deah, Yusor, and Razan. 

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Stories with a Heartbeat is a new podcast hosted by poet Will McInerney that explores the human condition in conflict through poetry, listening, and conversation.

An image of Will McInerney
Credit Jackson Hall / WUNC
Host Will McInerney

On February 10th, 2015 Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. All three young American-Muslims were shot and killed execution style in their home.

Last episode on Stories with a Heartbeat, we relived the night of the Chapel Hill Shootings through the eyes of Deah’s brother, Farris Barakat. Shortly after that night, this story echoed around the world as the victims’ legacy was honored from Chapel Hill to the Syrian border, and concerns over hate crimes and Islamophobia moved to the forefront.

Picture of Reema Khrais
Credit Reema Khrais / Facebook
WUNC Reporter Reema Khrais

In this episode, we meet WUNC reporter Reema Khrais. Within hours of the Chapel Hill Shootings Reema was on the story – all day, all night. But this is more than just a job for Reema, she’s from Chapel Hill and she’s also a member of the local Muslim community.

Reema had to balance her personal and emotional connections with her responsibilities to report the facts of case objectively. After doing a long interview live on air the day after the tragedy, the weight of the situation finally sank in.

"I think my voice was cracking. And I think immediately after it was done I went to a studio and just cried. I mean this is certainly the toughest story I’ve ever covered."

From Reema’s work in North Carolina, we pivot to the other side of the world. Host Will McInerney, who knew Deah and his family, traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border town of Reyhanli to visit a dental clinic named in honor of Deah, Yusor, and Razan. Deah had planned to travel and volunteer in Reyhanli the year he was killed. After his death, the Syrian refugees who live and work there felt like they had to do something. Deah’s patented smile, known to family and friends, is memorialized above the front door.

As McInerney paints a poetic portrait of the small one-room clinic and the hundreds of young Syrian refugees it serves each day, we meet Dr. Mohammad. He’s the dentist on duty and has an uncanny similarity to Deah.

Dr. Mohammad stands in front of a sign and picture of Deah, Yusor, and Razan.
Credit Will McInerney / WUNC
Dr. Mohammad stands in front of the Deah, Yusor, and Razan Dental Clinic.

Dr. Mohammad’s smile is a thin line, a flickering light. His smile is a slivering tail of steam and the rim of a simmering cup of tea. Dr. Mohammad’s smile feels so familiar. His smile is the soft spot in your mother’s palm. His smile is the callus in your father’s handshake. His smile is the sayings spilt from your grandmother’s lips over long wooden dinner tables and watered down drinks. His smile is a watering can to your roots. His smile is a repeating poem that persuades your pain out of existence. When I look at him, his smile, his smile feels so familiar.

In Reyhanli, Turkey, 6000 miles from Chapel Hill, North Carolina the legacy of Deah, Yusor, and Razan lives.

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Music on Stories with a Heartbeat is created by Stephen Levitin aka Apple Juice Kid

Will McInerney is an award-winning spoken word poet, storyteller, educator, and journalist specializing in the intersection of conflict resolution and creative expression. Will hosts and produces Stories with a Heartbeat, a new podcast that explores the complexity of the human condition in conflict through poetry, stories, and conversation. In addition, Will helps with education reporting and produces the My Teacher Project.
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