Brother Honors Legacy Of Relatives Lost In Chapel Hill, N.C., Shooting

Dec 22, 2015

NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Farris Barakat, who lost relatives in the Chapel Hill, N.C., shooting. He recently visited a Syrian refugee camp to honor his brother's legacy.

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As the year winds down, we're looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2015.


RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: Now a River of refugees and migrants flowing north from the Mediterranean.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: They are chanting open border.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And we will block this railway. If the train...

SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: ISIS has claimed responsibility for a mass shooting.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Climate changing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Military action.



One kind of story happened over and over. It starts with reports of shots fired, multiple victims and then a struggle for understanding.

SIEGEL: There were a number of high-profile shootings this year in places such as San Bernardino, Calif., Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, Roseburg, Ore. - many incidents, many families left grieving.

SHAPIRO: One of those shootings was in Chapel Hill, N.C., back in February. Three young people were killed in their home by a neighbor. All of them were related to Farris Barakat. He's in Washington for a White House event on multiculturalism and took the time to join us here in the studio. Thanks for being with us.

FARRIS BARAKAT: Oh, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: One of the people killed was your brother Deah. Another was Deah's wife and also his wife's sister. And at the time, your brother was working on a project called Refugee Smiles. Is it all right if we play some of the video that he created to raise money for this project?

F. BARAKAT: Yeah, I think it's actually really important to do so.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's listen.


DEAH BARAKAT: My name is Deah Barakat. I'm a dental student at UNC, and I need your help. Have you ever felt helpless about the situation in Syria and felt like you can't do anything about it? Well, this is your opportunity to help. This summer, I'm embarking on a trip to Turkey with 10 dentists to help Syrian refugee students in need of urgent dental care.

SHAPIRO: What does this video say about your brother?

F. BARAKAT: I feel like it says so much. You know, it speaks to the legacy that he's left, and this is the video that a lot of people got to know him by. It talks about our trip we did. He couldn't make, but me and my father, 15 dentists, 40 volunteers ended up doing to the border of Syria and Turkey. And Ali Heydary, a close friend of my brother, ended up coordinating the trip, and, honestly, it just brings back this wave of emotions from the trip.

SHAPIRO: When you and your father took this trip - this trip that your brother had planned - I imagine you were feeling your own loss as you were interacting with people who had escaped war and suffered tremendous loss themselves. Did that, in any way, shape your understanding of what you had been through?

F. BARAKAT: It absolutely has. And actually - so I remember as we first walked into the clinic, you know, that's the time when - OK, we're here. We're excited to go. And you kind of reflect on the fact that Deah, Yusor and Razan should have been here as well. I see my dad and Ali kind of looking over to the Syrian border, kind of hugging each other and just started crying. You know, in a sense we were there because we're sending an army instead of the three people that were supposed to go. We're doing what we can to continue this.

SHAPIRO: An army of dentists.

F. BARAKAT: An (laughter) - yes. I shall clarify that - an army of dentists and volunteers, a beautiful army.

SHAPIRO: While you were there, did you make any connection with refugees who perhaps had also lost other family members?

F. BARAKAT: Yeah. So I had this realization of like 200,000-plus people were killed in Syria, and I've lost three. The wave of response that we had for these three Americans was completely different than we had of the 200,000 people who were killed in Syria. You know, there was this one girl in particular, Seeda Rashi (ph) - she's a little timid. I spent almost an hour with her before she sees Dr. Sarah - again, very timid, not responsive. And I told her, you know, I lost a brother. And she ended up talking about how she lost her father and her brother. She has seven sisters left and a 13-year-old brother. I tried to use that as much as possible to say, I may know a little bit of what you're feeling, but again, I can't compare, like, being kicked out of my house, losing a father, losing a brother, having seven sisters and being in such a part of the world in which is just kind of scary. And you know, when she went down to the little van that was taking them back to the orphanage, I specifically made a trip down there to just say bye to her. And that's when I got her to crack a smile (laughter), let her know that she was - she meant something to somebody.

SHAPIRO: How does the interaction with these refugees, these others who have lost their family members and their home and their country and so much else make you reflect on what you're going through?

F. BARAKAT: The only thing I come out of all of it is thinking that humans are so incredibly resilient. I think it made me, like, detest, hate and do anything in my power to kind of counter violence. You know, when the Paris attack happens or San Bernardino attack happens, you know, for the first time, I started looking at it as one of the victims. It was just like, man, hundreds of people now have families left behind. We're going to go through the same crappy process that I went through and my family went through. And the idea is, like, how can we stop that? How can we, like, take the collective hurt that a lot of us are feeling internationally, locally, within our families and to give some kind of an outlook that's appropriate as opposed to radicalism and whatnot? And that's the thing; we can't kill these ideas. We have to nurture people out of them.

SHAPIRO: That's Farris Barakat. He lost three members of his family this year in a shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C. Thank you very much for talking with us.

F. BARAKAT: Thank you.


SHAPIRO: And an additional note - the Barakat family inherited a rental house from Deah. They're turning it into a nonprofit to help continue his legacy. It's called the Light House. In Arabic, Deah means light. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.