Community center to open one year after UNC Chapel Hill shooting

Fathers of slain Muslim students speak out
Fathers of slain Muslim students speak out

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Story highlights

  • The center is in honor of Deah Barakat, his new wife, and sister
  • The victims, all Muslim, were shot and killed last year
  • Their families say the gunman had threatened the victims before, and they believe the shootings were a hate crime

(CNN)Only months before he was gunned down in what his family believes was a hate crime, Deah Barakat tweeted a simple vision: "I have a dream one day, to have a unified ... community."

Barakat, a student at the UNC School of Dentistry, was killed last February, along with his new wife and sister. All three victims were Muslim.
Now, exactly a year after their deaths, a community center called the Light House Project is set to open in Raleigh, North Carolina, in their honor.
The project is spearheaded by Barakat's brother, Farris Barakat, who said the inspiration for the center came from Deah Barakat's tweet.
"When we were brainstorming on what to do, my mom sent me a tweet that Deah had written out like a year before his death, and it described his dream of having a community where we could help the youth with whatever projects they were taking on," Farris Barakat told CNN.
The center, slated to open Wednesday, is located in a home Deah Barakat left to his mother in downtown Raleigh. The bottom floor of the house consists of a collaborative study room, a kitchen and a prayer room, while the top floor consists of shared office space and a resource center.
Farris Barakat says he still feels the loss of his brother, but that working on the center has proved useful.
"Every day it seems like I just go through the motions," he said, "but this project has helped our healing."
Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were shot and killed in an apartment near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus on February 10, last year.
Their families say the gunman had threatened the victims before, and they believe the shootings were a hate crime.
FBI inquiry into murders as possible hate crime
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Police have said "an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking" might have been a factor in the shootings, but said they weren't dismissing the possibility of a hate crime.
The suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been charged with murder. He is awaiting trial and might qualify for the death penalty.
Who is Craig Hicks?
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The Light House Project is committed to "professionally representing Islam and advancing the Muslim American narrative," according to its website. It also aims to "reclaim the Muslim American narrative through advocacy."
Deah Barakat was a second-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry. His wife had recently been accepted to study there next year. And her sister was a freshman studying architecture at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Deah Barakat was interested in global health and served on a dental aid mission to Palestine in December 2012. Before he was killed, he'd been in the midst of raising money for a trip to Turkey to help provide services and supplies to child refugees from neighboring Syria with 10 other dentists and faculty from the UNC School of Dentistry.
"When we were reflecting on what to do about Deah's death -- how to honor him -- we knew we wanted to open a dialogue for people to get to know us. Us, as in Muslims," said Farris Barakat.
When asked about potential for backlash to the project, he said he doesn't expect it.
"Not with this story, even in the South," he said. "We just wanted to create a space for people to feel free, and ask questions, and feel comfortable."