#1000Speak: Drawing Compassion from the Chapel Hill Shootings

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#DailyWings“Walk for those that can’t walk. Run for those who wish they could. Fight for those who can’t fight. Scream for those who wish for a voice. Hope for those who are hopeless. Dream for those who wish they had sight. Love for those who will never know what love is. Love them too. Forgive for those who will never learn to forgive. Forgive them too. Breathe for those who struggle for air. Stand for those who can’t. Believe for the ones who doubt. Live for those that never had a chance to. And never take it for granted.” -Joshua Globa

Today, more than 1,000 bloggers from all over the world are coming together in solidarity to share stories of compassion for “1000 Voices for Compassion,” with the goal of inspiring others to live with open hearts. Compassion isn’t just a passive feeling. It also doesn’t have to be an aggressive action. It’s about listening to what’s not being said, giving room for others to breathe and making moves when we recognize social injustice.

For my #1000Speak contribution, I want to address the Chapel Hill shootings that took place on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. To continue the “1,000 Voices” trend, I will also be sharing a local story about fighting against cancer next week that I think perfectly captures the heart of compassion.

But the stories of compassion by no means don’t stop here. As you browse the news and your favorite blogs today, take a moment to read other #1000Speak stories. Read about other people’s struggles and triumphs, the pieces of broken dreams after they’ve been shattered, the unexpected joys, the sacrifices of second nature, the hand-holding of strangers, the glimmers of hope that we all keep holding onto. Know this: We’re still fighting the good fight.

On the Lives of Deah, Yusor and Razan

I couldn’t quite believe my ears when my co-worker said to our row of cubicles at the office, “There’s a shooting in Chapel Hill right now.”

It was Tuesday, Feb. 10. That night, three Muslim students – two sisters, and one of the sisters’ husbands – were shot in a neighborhood near Meadowmont Village, just two minutes away from my apartment by car. Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha. Deah and Yusor were UNC dental students. Razan was an undergraduate student at NC State. She was 19 years old.

In the wee early morning hours after the shootings, as the media slowly began to pick up on the Chapel Hill shootings story, #MuslimLivesMatter began to trend on Twitter. Fewer than 24 hours after the shooting, Chapel Hill was the leading news story on every major media outlet, including CNN, The Huffington Post and the New York Times. Journalists, bloggers and social justice activists alike have expressed their outrage toward what clearly is a hate crime, one of many in a slew of violent acts against Muslims and members of other marginalized populations.

On the very television screen that faces my work desk every day and on the exact same CNN channel that informed me of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Ebola massacre just weeks earlier, Chapel Hill’s name filled the headlines. UNC’s Student Union was pictured, along with the faces of our neighbors who were brutally shot by a man who believed violence was the answer.

It’s easy to turn on the TV and see similar news stories and think, “That’s terrible. Thank goodness it’s not happening here.”

But it DOES happen here. It’s happening in our own backyards. These people that we hear about during casual lunch conversations, that are on the media…they aren’t characters. They are real.

When the shooter, Craig Hicks, decided to take away three innocent lives, the lives of people who dedicated themselves to service and compassion every single day, he violated one of the safest, most progressive, most accepting communities I know. Chapel Hill is our home. How could something like this happen?

The night after the #ChapelHillshootings, UNC held a beautiful candlelight vigil in the Pit, UNC’s outdoor public forum and the heart of the university. Thousands of students, faculty, neighbors and community members were there, and yet, the entire Pit remained quiet. Cream-colored tea candles were passed around without a single murmur. There were a thousand voices that did not speak, expressing sorrow and compassion through respectful silence.

Where does light go in a tunnel of darkness?

Even as the tears spilled from my cheeks onto my brown corduroy jacket, I did not know what to feel or how to cope with the shock and devastation that washed over me. Besides the fact that my apartment was close to the scene of the hate crime, I did not have any real connection to the shootings. I didn’t personally know Deah, Razan or Yusor. I am not a member of the global Muslim community, and though I may be a Chinese woman with a disability, I will never know the kind of oppression and hatred Muslims have had to endure because of their religion. What is my role as a mourner? Do I even count?

Muslim Lives Matter, Chapel Hill shootings, UNC, candlelight vigil

Thousands attended the UNC candlelight vigil held for Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha on Feb. 11. Photo by Ashton Hicks.

The silence was finally broken when the opening verses of the Quran were recited out loud. One by one, the victims’ family members approached the podium at the front of the vigil and began to share their memories of Deah, Yusor and Razan. They talked about Deah’s charity efforts to provide dental care for children living in Palestine. They recalled what Razan loved to eat for breakfast. They told the love story of Deah and Yusor, who got married only six weeks before the shooting.

It was there, as we stood mourning in silence and in peace, that I realized there is some good that has come out of all this. Out of all the anger and pain and the shadows cast over our town, there is also inspiration, courage and unity.

Deah, Yusor and Razan did not die in vain. They left a legacy of compassion that will not be forgotten soon. They set an example for what we should all strive to be like as human beings. This was a wake-up call for the entire nation, where discrimination and intolerance are rampant, if not overt. This is us shaking America by the shoulders, yelling enough is enough. This violence and hatred needs to end. This is a reminder for Muslims to know that, despite everything that has happened and the horrible bigots who exist in this world, there are people who stand by them.

Apart from the proximity of my location to the scene of the crime, these shootings have made a deep impact on me as a fighter for equality, social justice and global compassion. The Chapel Hill shooting may not have affected me or my loved ones personally, but it’s affected my heart. My heart goes out to the people who knew Deah, Yusor and Razan. My heart hurts for them, too, and for all the people who have ever been oppressed, ostracized, misunderstood or made to be thought little, weak or not enough. That pain is strong enough for me to continue writing and sharing their stories, to take action in the best way that I know how. What will you do?


It’s not too late! We’d love for you to join us in this blogging initiative to share your story of compassion, whatever it may be. I will be writing another #1000Speak article about a local fight against cancer next week to continue the trend.

6 responses to “#1000Speak: Drawing Compassion from the Chapel Hill Shootings”

  1. Jen says:

    Wendy, thank you for writing about your experience living in the neighborhood where these three kind and gentle souls were taken so violently. I’m glad the community was able to show support to the victims’ families by coming together and each person who came out made a difference. I am so glad you have joined #1000Speak and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

  2. nabanita says:

    Every effort counts…And I appreciate what you are doing sharing the stories :)

  3. jaklumen says:

    Not too long ago, in my city of Kennewick (on the more affluent side of town– not near my neighborhood, which is poorer), two kids were found shot to death in their home.

    The police department apparently declined to give the local news any leads on the investigation. No idea if it’s still unsolved, or what.

    Then police officers in next door Pasco, WA, shot a Mexican man to death… oh, not even hardly a week ago if I remember right. *grrr* if I find out Ryan Flanagan was a neighbor of mine back in the day, I’m gonna be pissed (just last summer, he slammed a Hispanic woman on a hot car hood because her English was poor & he couldn’t find her name in the computer system).

  4. Sara L. says:

    “What is my role as a mourner? Do I even count?”

    Of course you do, Wendy. (It sounds like you came to realize this as the article went along, but I wanted to say it outright.) Just by you and the other mourners being there, it brought strength and comfort to the victim’s families. You were there to show your sadness, your empathy, your compassion. And I’m sure they appreciated it. :) Wonderful, emotional post, Wendy.

    I remember feeling a similar horror when the Boston Marathon bombings happened two years ago. I’ve never attended the marathon myself, but I’ve been to the area where its finish line is located many times for other events / reasons. And I know the marathon is a family-friendly event. I was at work when it happened, and when we got word of the bombing, I watched the live coverage on streaming video… and I was speechless. It’s still hard now to put those feelings into words. Except that it was wrong. To know that so many innocent people – children and adults – were maimed and injured that day, in a place I knew so well and where hundreds of tourists and commuters walk every day, it was just… wrong. I ended up blogging about it, and then wrote a poem too. I’m thinking of highlighting both pieces again come Marathon time for a #1000Speak post, since compassion (as well as other emotions) drove me to write them.

  5. ann bennett says:

    The Chapel Hill shooting was so senseless.

    I remember the first day I moved to Atlanta in 1982, I had been caught in some normal traffic that I did not know to avoid. On the news that night, one man had got out of his car and shot the man in the car in front for shooting a bird at him.

    It always left me thinking when I am dealing with an unstable person that it does not matter if you are right. You have to stay safe. I’ve had three instances in my life when I backed away from someone who was being unreasonable for my own personal safety.

    It is such a crying shame that these young people who had so much to live for were murdered. I agree that this country has got to wake up and not be such religious bigots. We can’t fault their fanatics and be fanatics ourselves.

    One big warning sign was the murderer wore a gun. Why would you wear a gun unless you plan to use it? I could go on and on.

    Take care and good article.

  6. AD says:

    Lovely post. You’re right their deaths were not in vain because for once, the media and the world was forced to look in to the lives of people that were good and compassionate and kind. Not the evil that their communities are wrongly represented to be in the media.
    It’s lovely that you were able to attend the vigil.
    Very glad to have found you via 1000Speak. :)

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