On the day of her youngest brother’s wedding, Suzanne Barakat combed his hair, held him and watched him dance in a ballroom with his new life partner.
She thought about how her 23-year-old brother, Deah, was no longer a lanky, basketball-obsessed teenager who struggled to focus on school. He had transformed into a well-rounded, ambitious student at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry and was marrying someone who shared his passion.
Deah’s wife, Yusor-Abu-Salha, had turned 21 the day before and had been recently accepted to the same school. The couple planned to travel to Turkey’s border with Syria the following summer to help give free dental treatment to refugees.
Suzanne, her eyes filled with tears, excused herself to the corner of the ballroom. When Deah noticed, he rushed to her, wrapped his arms around her and rocked her back and forth.
“I realized just how proud I was of him,” Suzanne says.
Suzanne told the story of her brother’s wedding and the harrowing events that unfolded six weeks later for the live storytelling event, The Moth. The full six-and-a-half-minute story is available on the website of The Moth Radio Hour.
On Feb. 10 last year, Suzanne, a resident physician at San Francisco General Hospital, wrote a prescription when text messages began flooding her phone, she remembers. After several frantic phone calls, she spoke with her other brother, Farris, who told her: Deah, Yusor and Yusor’s younger sister, Razan Abu-Salha, were murdered in their Chapel Hill apartment.
“By the time I’m boarding the plane, my brother tells me they’re thinking it’s a hate crime, but we have no idea what the heck is going on right now,” she says.
Deah, Yusor and Razan, who was visiting, had been eating dinner when their neighbor, Craig Hicks, knocked on the door. Hicks fired at Deah multiple times, moved to toward the kitchen, shot Yusor at the hip and head, and shot Razan in the back of the head, Suzanne says. As he walked out of the apartment, Hicks shot Deah in the mouth for a total of 8 bullets: two lodged in his head, two in his chest and the rest in his extremities.
“To perform something so vile, so gruesome, so wicked, requires acute dehumanization at the minimum, hatred that is deep and well-rooted,” Suzanne says.
She explains that actions of public figures “from Ben Carson to Bill Maher, to sweepingly bash Muslims,” have created a climate that “undoubtedly played a role in fueling this hatred.”
Suzanne ends her story, saying she’ll “never know his [Deah] warm embrace again.”
“The last time I ever touched him was in his casket, taking my fingers and combing his hair the way he liked them and kissing his cold, lifeless forehead.”