One Year Later, Chapel Hill Shooting Victims' Friends Remember Them As Witty And Humble

Feb 11, 2016

One of Yusor Abu-Salha’s favorite foods was butter chicken, an Indian dish. She was a movie buff and ‘Saturday Night Live’ was her go-to show.

Her friends describe her as someone with a solid sense of humor – she had an affinity for pulling pranks and sending colorful Snapchats.

“She had a lot of swag,” her friend, Morjan Rahhal, remembers. 

"She had a lot of swag."

Yusor, 21, her 19-year-old sister, Razan Abu-Salha, and her husband, Deah Barakat, 23, were murdered a year ago this week. In memorials, the three have been described as upstanding members of their communities who were dedicated to giving back. But to those who knew them personally, they were also dynamic, youthful Muslim-Americans who were humble, gave wise advice and made their friends giggle.

Rana Odeh remembers a period where she and Yusor talked with each other only in British accents.

“We’d always play off of each other,” she says.” “That’s the one thing I really miss about her: her humor.”

Yusor also loved her family fiercely. A week before her wedding, Yusor sent her friend Nida Allam a string of worried texts. Not about the music, or the DJ, or the food – but about her dad.  He was crying because he was going to miss her.

“She still had things with her cake and stuff that she needed to do, but that was her main concern,” Allam says. 

On Facebook, Yusor posted this photo as her profile picture a day before she died with the caption: "Dancing with Daddy."
Credit Yusor Abu-Salha/Facebook

Yusor died just six weeks after her wedding. She was having dinner with her husband, Deah Barakat, and her younger sister, Razan, when police say their neighbor, Craig Hicks, knocked on their door and shot them to death.

Yusor had just gotten accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry where Barakat was a second-year student. 

Her sister Razan was only nineteen. A sophomore at N.C. State University, she was pursuing what she loved most: architecture and design.

Friends say she was wise for her age. Instead of clothes, her closet was filled with books. She was steadfast in her beliefs, news-minded and had a no-nonsense approach to giving advice, say N.C. State juniors Doha Hindi and Yasmine Inaya.

Razan also had a penchant for making silly faces and a sharp sense of humor. Every night before she went to sleep, she’d share vines, videos or memes with her friends, then again early in the morning.

“At 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. we’d just get texts on texts on texts from her,” Innaya says with a chuckle.

Her morning routine also consisted of watching the news and having coffee with her dad.

“I have to admit, my own two daughters picked up their manners more from their mother than from me,” Mohammad Abu-Salha says. 

Abu-Salha spoke about his daughters and son-in-law at a memorial event at N.C. State on Wednesday night.

“We taught them that they should treat their neighbors the way they want their neighbors to treat them,” he explains.

Instead of mourning, Abu-Salha wants to celebrate their legacy. In the last year, an endowment known as “Our Three Winners” has raised about $700,000. The goal is $5 million. The money will go to toward scholarships and projects like the one Deah Barakat was planning.

"He was a romantic."

Before he died, Deah Barakat, Yusor’s husband, was raising money to help Syrian refugees with dental care.

Credit Deah Barakat / Facebook

“He’s a romantic. I think that’s the best way to say it,” says Nazmi Albadawi, one of his childhood friends.

Albadawi remembers his friend as someone with a ton of compassion – a 6-feet, 3-inches tall guy who greeted those he loved with bear hugs and filled a room with his laughter.

“He’d like get in a high-pitch, squeaking noise and slap his knees like crazy, just jumping all over the place,” Asem Rahman recalls.

Deah was also fiercely competitive, at least when it came to sports. He was obsessed with the Golden State Warriors and point guard basketball player Steph Curry.  

“I think he loved him more than Yusor,” Albadawi says with a laugh. “He loved, loved, loved Steph Curry.”

His wife, Yusor, was a big Los Angeles Lakers fan. The two went to a game on the way to their honeymoon in Mexico.

Morjan Rahhal, a friend of Yusor’s, says she still thinks of her regularly.

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha at an N.C. State basketball game with friend Nada Salem in back right corner.
Credit Nada Salem

“In life, I’m striving to be more like Yusor,” she remarks. Before Yusor died, she visited a StoryCorps booth in Durham with her former elementary school teacher. When listening to the interview, Rahhal notes just how graceful and eloquent she sounded.

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said.

  “It doesn’t matter where you come from. There are so many different people from so many different places of so many of different backgrounds and religions, but here we’re all one.”

That day, Yusor explained that despite being visibly Muslim, she felt embedded in the fabric of America’s culture.