"We're All One": UNC Shooting Victim Yusor Abu-Salha's StoryCorps Interview Months Before Death

February 13, 2015
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Some 5,000 people attend the North Carolina funeral of the three Muslim students murdered in Chapel Hill on Thursday as the FBI announced it has opened a probe into the killings. Today, we hear from one of the victims, Yusor Abu-Salha, in her own words. Last year, Abu-Salha went into a StoryCorps booth to record an interview with her third grade teacher, Mussarut Jabeen of the Al-Iman School in Raleigh. "Growing up in America has been such a blessing. And although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture,” Abu-Salha said. The other two victims, Deah Barakat and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, also attended Al-Iman.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Denver, Colorado, from Denver Open Media. The FBI has opened an inquiry into this week’s killings of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In a statement, the agency said it had launched a, quote, "parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated." On Thursday, over 5,000 people gathered for the funerals of 23-year-old Deah Barakat; his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. The suspected gunman, Craig Stephen Hicks, who described himself as a "gun-toting atheist," has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Chapel Hill police say the shooting stemmed from a dispute over a parking space, but relatives of the victims say it was a hate crime. Yusor and Razan’s father, Mohammad Abu-Salha, spoke at the funeral.

MOHAMMAD ABU-SALHA: There’s no doubt, as I thank Allah’s [inaudible] for giving us this honor of raising three children, this has hate crime written all over it! And I’m not going to sit down and bend over that, because we need to know things the way they are. We have peace inside. We are not seeking any revenge. Our children are much more valuable than any revenge.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Abu-Salha speaking at Thursday’s funeral for his two daughters and son-in-law. Azhar Aziz of the Islamic Society of North America also spoke at the funeral.

AZHAR AZIZ: We are concerned that the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in our society may have encouraged some to commit violence against American Muslims, so we urge the law enforcement to investigate this case as a possible hate crime.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday’s Democracy Now!, we spoke to Amira Ata about the murder of her childhood friend, of Yusor Abu-Salha. Well, today, we’re going to hear Yusor in her own words. Last May, she did an interview with her third grade teacher, Mussarut Jabeen, as part of the StoryCorps oral history project. All three of this week’s victims attended Jabeen’s school. This week, StoryCorps produced a short piece base on that interview.

LIYNA ANWAR: I’m Liyna Anwar, one of the producers here at StoryCorps. Today we’ll hear the voice of one of the students killed in Tuesday’s shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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.

LIYNA ANWAR: That teacher is Mussarut Jabeen, who taught Yusor Abu-Salha in third grade. In fact, she knew all of the victims—Yusor, her husband, Deah Barakat, and her sister, Razan—since they were kids. Jabeen brought Yusor to StoryCorps last May. You’re going to hear part of that conversation and a follow-up interview recorded just yesterday with Jabeen.

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

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


YUSOR ABU-SALHA: —such as, you know, the hijab—


YUSOR ABU-SALHA: —the head covering, there are still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture. And here, we’re all one.

MUSSARUT 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.

YUSOR 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.



MUSSARUT JABEEN: You still remember?

YUSOR 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.

MUSSARUT 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.

YUSOR 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.

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

YUSOR ABU-SALHA: Yeah, that was pretty interesting.

MUSSARUT JABEEN: And 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."

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

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

YUSOR ABU-SALHA: Thank you. Of course.

MUSSARUT 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mussarut Jabeen, teacher and principal at Al-Iman School in Raleigh, North Carolina, where all three victims in Tuesday’s shooting had been students. Yusor first came to Storycorps in May with her teacher. This interview was recorded in partnership with WUNC and will be archived at the Library of Congress. Special thanks to Dave Isay and StoryCorps.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we turn to a police shooting in Denver, Colorado. The victim? A 17-year-old teenage girl. Stay with us.

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