Chapel Hill Shooting Victims Were 'Radiant,' Teacher Says

Feb 13, 2015
Originally published on February 13, 2015 11:54 am

Yusor Abu-Salha was one of the young students killed in Tuesday's shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C.

She and her former third-grade teacher, Mussarut Jabeen, spoke to StoryCorps in May. In fact, all three victims in the shooting — Abu-Salha, 21, her husband, Deah Barakat, 23, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19 — attended the Al-Iman School in Raleigh, N.C., where Jabeen taught.

Jabeen returned to StoryCorps Wednesday to talk about that 2014 conversation with Abu-Salha.

"She was the first one to come to my mind," said the 55-year-old Jabeen. "She was one student I would like everybody to know about."

When she spoke to StoryCorps in May, Abu-Salha said she knew she stood out as a Muslim in America.

"Growing up in America has been such a blessing, and you know, although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering," Abu-Salha said, "there's still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture. And that's the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions, but here we're all one, one culture."

Jabeen says she remembers when Abu-Salha was in third grade, "she had this sense of giving that really makes her different from other children."

"I still remember, in third grade, when we asked for something, you used to say, 'Don't put your hand like this,' " Abu-Salha recalled in May. "And you would have your hand facing downward as if you're taking something from someone."

"Oh, my God," Jabeen said. "You still remember?"

"And then you'd flip your hand over, and you'd open your hand upward as, you know, a giving gesture," Abu-Salha said. "You know, be giving, open, compassionate."

Jabeen told StoryCorps on Wednesday that "Deah, Yusor and Razan, these kids, their face was so radiant. They would just bring light to the room. And they treat me like their mother."

Abu-Salha and Jabeen still kept in touch long after the third grade.

"I see you nowadays, and you're always asking, 'How are you?' you know, 'Where are you now in life?' " Abu-Salha said. "And now I'm at NC State University."

"And got married to one of my other student!" Jabeen said.

"Yeah, that was, um, pretty interesting," Abu-Salha said.

"I was so happy when I saw you guys together," Jabeen said. "You know, that these are the two kids that we taught, and you will be together for the rest of your life, inshallah."

Jabeen remembers when Deah was growing up, he was getting so tall that he started to outgrow her.

"And because I'm a short person, he would stand behind me and put his hand over my head," she said. "And I just told him, 'Deah, you can never outgrow my heart.' "

Jabeen says she wants people to remember Abu-Salha as "a practicing Muslim, as a daughter and, above all, as a good human being."

"You know, when we write our comments on report cards, we say they 'exceeded our expectations,' " Jabeen said. "She exceeded our expectations."

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar and Michael Garofalo.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's time for StoryCorps. And today, we hear a voice that was lost this week. One of the students killed in the shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C., had come into a StoryCorps booth last spring to talk with someone she cared for deeply.

YUSOR ABU-SALHA: My name is Yusor Abu-Salha. I am 20 years old, and today, I will be interviewing my former teacher and principal.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That teacher is Mussarut Jabeen, who taught Yusor Abu-Salha in third grade. Sister Jabeen, as Yusor calls her, knew all of the victims - Yusor, her husband, Deah Barakat, and her sister, Razan, since they were kids.

MONTAGNE: Their teacher first came to StoryCorps in May with Yusor. You're going to hear some of that conversation, entwined with some new thoughts from Sister Jabeen, recorded just yesterday.

SISTER MUSSARUT JABEEN: She was the first one to come to my mind. She was one student I would like everybody to know about.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABU-SALHA: Growing up in America has been such a blessing, and although, in some ways, I do stand out...

JABEEN: Yes.

ABU-SALHA: ...Such as, you know, the hijab - the head covering...

JABEEN: Yes.

ABU-SALHA: ...There are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture. And here, we're all one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JABEEN: I remember Yusor as a little girl. When she was in third grade, she had this sense of giving that really makes her different from other children.

ABU-SALHA: I still remember, in third grade, when we asked for something, you used to say, don't put your hand like this. You would have your hand facing downwards as if you're taking something from someone.

JABEEN: Oh, my God.

ABU-SALHA: Yeah.

JABEEN: You still remember?

ABU-SALHA: And then you'd flip your hand over, and you'd open your hand upward as, you know, a giving gesture. You know, be giving, open, compassionate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JABEEN: Deah, Yusor and Razan - these kids, their face was so radiant. They would just bring light to the room, and they treat me like their mother.

ABU-SALHA: I see you nowadays, and you're always asking, how are you? You know, where are you now in life? And now I'm at NC State University.

JABEEN: And got married to one of - my other student.

ABU-SALHA: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

ABU-SALHA: That was pretty interesting.

JABEEN: I was so happy, you know, when I saw you guys together. And you will be together for the rest of your life, inshallah.

I just remember Deah, when he was growing up, he was getting taller, and because I'm a short person, he would stand behind me and put his hand over my head. And I just told him Deah, you can never outgrow my heart.

ABU-SALHA: Before our time's up, Sister Jabeen, I'd just like to thank you. It's been an honor.

JABEEN: No, I want to thank you, Yusor. And the honor is mine. Thank you so much.

ABU-SALHA: Of course.

JABEEN: I would like people to know and remember her as a practicing Muslim, as a daughter and above all, as a good human being. You know, when we write our comments on report cards, we say, they exceeded our expectations. She exceeded our expectations.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: That's Mussarut Jabeen, teacher and principal at Al-Iman School in Raleigh, N.C., where all three victims in Tuesday's shooting had been students.

GREENE: She first came to StoryCorps in May with Yusor Abu-Salha. Those interviews were recorded in partnership with WUNC, and they will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.