The University and the Dental Foundation of North Carolina are establishing a new memorial award in memory of two of three Muslim-American students who were shot to death in February.
The Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha Memorial Award will be presented for the first time this fall for the 2015-16 academic year.
Barakat and Abu-Salha had been married six weeks at the time of their deaths. The third victim was Razan Abu-Salha, a sophomore at N.C. State University and Yusor’s younger sister.
Barakat was a second-year dental student at UNC’s School of Dentistry, and Abu-Salha had been admitted to enter the dental school this fall.
The shootings occurred in Barakat’s and Abu-Salha’s home. A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, later turned himself in to police and was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He is being held at Central Prison in Raleigh. Authorities have said they will seek the death penalty.
The incident sparked suspicion of a hate crime. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha, proclaimed it a hate crime, and the FBI assisted in the case. But neighbors of Barakat and Abu-Salha steered the focus away from hate crime, saying Hicks had accosted multiple people over their right to parking places. One said that Hicks, who was said to patrol the parking lot with a gun holstered on his hip, had “equal opportunity anger” toward his neighbors and that some of them had held a meeting last year to discuss their concerns over his behavior.
News of the deaths reverberated around the world through social media due to the question of whether religious bias was involved. Thousands attended memorial services on the Carolina and N.C. State campuses.
Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha were noted for spending much of their lives giving back to those less fortunate, donating their time and energy to homeless shelters and free dental clinics. The couple had planned to travel to Turkey this summer to provide dental care to Syrian refugees and eventually planned to open a dental practice together.
“Deah and Yusor led lives of great purpose, and this fund is a fitting tribute to their humanitarian devotions,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Through this award, the Carolina community is honoring their legacy of creating a more compassionate world through dentistry and delivering aid to those who are most vulnerable and in need.”
The memorial award will provide support to a UNC School of Dentistry student or group of students who plan a local, national or international service project that, according to Barakat’s brother, Farris, “will give back to communities that need help the most.”
The award was set up in consultation with the Barakat and Abu-Salha families.
“Deah and Yusor had incredible hearts for service,” said Jane Weintraub, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC. “They often gave their weekends to working at homeless shelters or the North Carolina Missions of Mercy clinics and were no strangers to international service trips. Through this award, we’ll be able to not only educate our students about their lives of service but also continue their legacy of giving back for years to come.”
The dental foundation and the University each committed $30,000 to the fund, providing an initial endowment of $60,000 in total.