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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Remembering the lives we lost

our three winners
(From left) Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha lost their lives Feb. 10, 2015. (Courtesy of the Abu-Salha family)

Five years ago, Chapel Hill lost three of its brightest lights. 

On Feb. 10, 2015, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha were shot execution-style by their neighbor outside Chapel Hill’s Finley Forest Condominiums. Deah, his wife Yusor and her sister Razan were all Muslim. 

Though they were unfairly and inexplicably taken from us out of hate, Deah, Yusor and Razan represented nothing but love. The Town of Chapel Hill has named Feb. 10 as Our Three Winners Day to commemorate the legacy of Deah, Yusor and Razan and their commitment to service. And in the fall, the UNC School of Dentistry celebrates DEAH DAY — which stands for Directing Efforts And Honoring Deah And Yusor — to memorialize Barakat, a dental student at UNC. 

It’s still hard to believe something like this would happen in a place like Chapel Hill. But part of honoring their memory requires taking off the rose-colored glasses and reckoning with the fact that Chapel Hill isn’t nearly as safe as it could be. Not for women. Not for minorities. And especially not for Deah, Yusor and Razan. 

This was not a parking dispute. And it wasn’t an isolated incident, either. According to a Safe Home study, hate crimes in North Carolina rose 64 percent between 2013 and 2017 — significantly higher than the national average of 22 percent.

The longer we deny Islamophobia, the more it will continue to fester. It wasn’t until this summer that Chapel Hill Police officially recognized this shooting as a hate crime — an admission that was long overdue. 

Deah, Yusor and Razan were bigger and brighter than us. They still are. And now, five years after the untimely deaths of Our Three Winners, new generations of UNC students need to be reminded of what occurred in this town. As a community, it’s on us to remember their lives and impact here. 

We need to actively keep Deah, Yusor and Razan in our memory. We need to live like they did — selflessly, wholeheartedly and in unabated service of others. And we hope that in the years to come, the Town and University will do more to ensure that a tragedy like this never occurs again, through policies and legitimate institutional change that make Chapel Hill a safer, more welcoming place for marginalized communities. Complacency will never resolve the loss our community has experienced.

Today, take a moment to remember Deah, Yusor and Razan. Remember their lives and reject the hatred that took them from us too soon.

To end, a short prayer often recited by Muslims in times of tragedy or grief: “Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.” Indeed, to Allah (God) we belong and to Him we shall return.

To honor Deah, Yusor, Razan and their families, please consider donating to the Light House Project or the Our Three Winners Foundation.

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