I keep coming back to that picture of the two of you dancing together.
She's in that confection of a white wedding dress, her hand in yours, which is lifting her arm overhead in that moment before a twirl. I can't see your expression in that photo because your back is to us. But I can see it in my mind.
This is your beautiful princess, the tiny baby girl you brought home 21 years ago. Her face is lit with that expression brides often wear. That glow of bliss and joy and expectation of a long journey of love ahead. Your beloved daughter posted this photo and captioned it "Dancing with Daddy."
A little more than a month ago, you and your wife saw that dream parents have for their children come true: Your child found a worthy love and life partner. She was going to start dental school. You would see them begin to build a life together.
And then this nightmare.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, turned himself into police Tuesday for allegedly putting a gun to the head of that newly married young woman, her husband and her younger sister in their home. He has been charged with the first-degree murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, at the University of North Carolina.
A murderer robs more than just his victims of their lives. He robs everyone who loves them; he robs the entire world of their gifts. And your daughters and son-in-law had so many gifts to share. They had enormous hearts that wanted to restore the broken smiles in this world. They showed compassion and grace and intelligence. What a remarkable job you and your wife did raising your daughters. What a remarkable job Deah's parents did.
I read your words in news reports after the authorities suggested this heinous triple homicide may have stemmed from a parking dispute.
"It was execution style, a bullet in every head," you said. "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime."
Premeditated killers never seem psychologically balanced. Isn't some degree of madness a precondition to mass murder? But was this perpetrator's anger fueled from a place of hatred? Where does that hatred start? How does it grow? How is it nurtured and reinforced? Those are questions that need to be asked.
It's not hard to imagine what the media storm around this crime would have been if your daughters had not been Muslims who wore headscarves. Or what the coverage may have looked like if the accused had been Muslim and had posted anti-Christian screeds before murdering three students in cold blood.
We know what that coverage would look like. We've seen it time and time again.
But it's not just the Muslim community in Chapel Hill who joins your voice for a thorough and transparent investigation. Every fair-minded person in this country wants justice for your children. Those of us who see parts of ourselves in your family feel your loss as our own. Your daughters were best friends; my sisters are mine. Your girls wore hijab; so do my mother and sister-in-law. Deah's sister said she cried tears of joy at her brother's wedding, as I did at mine. I know the look that must have been on your face when you twirled your daughter because I remember my father's face on my wedding day. Your daughters were your light; my children are mine.
There is bile-tainted grief that comes after a loved one is murdered. There is an incomprehensible pain to your loss. From my heart, I will pray for that to lessen.
I will heed your words to remember the best parts of their all-too-short lives. I will remember Deah, a 23-year-old young man, helping to feed and care for the homeless in his community and raising money to fly overseas to provide dental care to refugees. I will remember his last text to his mother: "I love you mama."
I will remember your daughters for their creativity, kindness and grace. For the manner in which they excelled and gave to their community.
I've visited the memorial Facebook page a relative created for your daughters and son-in-law, where I've stared at that wedding picture, full of promise. I have also reread several times these words posted by a family member:
"Many, many amazing people have condemned this crime from across the world including many random people who seem to want to apologize for the heinous acts of this man. Muslims know all too well that the actions of few may not define the masses. Love shall overcome."
North Carolina will not forget your children, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha.
Muslims and Americans will not forget your children.
We will remember their example to fight hate with love.
Surely, it will overcome.