‘Our Three Winners’ Continue to Inspire Service

Khadija Saifullah

This week marked the one year anniversary of the shooting death of dental student Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

“I have a dream one day, to have a unified and structured community. Have a voice in our society and support the youth with their projects.” — Deah Barakat

On Feb. 10, 2015 the world lost three people whose lasting actions and dedication to service still live on today. Our Three Winners not only excelled academically, but dedicated their lives to community service. 

Their tragic deaths hit home. They proudly held their wolfpack North Carolina State University hand signs in the air, which looks almost exactly like UT’s hook ‘em horns that we frequently display. Their ages ranged from that of a typical university sophomore, to a recent graduate and a dental student. 

In light of the anniversary of their death, United Muslim Relief passed out white carnations on West Mall with a small note containing information about who they are and their dedication to service. All three of them were involved in the leadership of the UNC chapter of UMR, which has established an endowment to let their legacy live on.  The proceeds from this trust go towards funding education, dental relief and service projects helping those in need.

“How many doctors do you know who have read their own children’s autopsy reports?” said Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of the Abu-Salha sisters.

“They were taught to love their country, and be honest and genuine to the soil they grew up on. And they eventually blended their blood with this soil,” Abu-Salha said.

After an individual’s death, their Facebook profile becomes a personalized memorial. Their posts include Deah and Yusor’s marriage six weeks prior to their murder, and posts calling to help the less fortunate. 

Deah organized hygiene drives for the homeless, which included handing out toothbrushes and starting the hashtag #DowntownSmiles. When his parents and in-laws reminisce about his dedication to service, it brings a wistful smile on their faces. 

In the past year, students across the country have continued their legacy by building Habitat for Humanity homes, donating to Deah’s campaign for Syrian refugees and organizing canned food drives. The school started six scholarships in their name, each one geared toward a specific attribute exhibited by either Deah, Yusor or Razan.

However, the most momentous of lasting impacts they have made after their death include Deah’s plea to provide free dental care to Syrian refugees. Before his death, he had raised $20,000. In the wake of the murders, however, his online campaign exploded and ended up raising over half a million dollars.

One of the many remarkable actions that I learned from Our Three Winners is to find something you’re passionate about, put your heart into it and make a difference. In college we have so much potential to cultivate and do what we can on a small level, and we never know how our small acts of kindness could add up in the future. A community getting together to help others — something Deah, Yusor and Razan worked for in life — makes their continued presence here more real than any online post. 

Saifullah is a neuroscience sophomore from Richardson. Saifullah is a Senior Columnist. Follow her on Twitter @coolstorysunao.