Thousands Gather at UNC to Pay Tribute to 3 Shooting Victims

Thousands filled the Pit at UNC on a chilly Wednesday evening to pay tribute to three young Muslim college students who were gunned down the day before in Chapel Hill – allegedly, over a parking dispute.

Many, however, say they believe 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks committed a hate crime.

The vigil began with UNC dental students, in their white coats, standing together in the center of The Pit, and holding candles in remembrance of their classmate Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

There were several speakers, including town and university leaders, and friends and family of the three shooting victims.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt thanked everyone for coming out, including busloads of students from N.C. State and N.C. Central universities.

“As is often the case at a time of tragedy,” said Folt, “when you think you’re going to reach out to try to help people, you find that the people you’re trying to help are the ones that, in fact, help you.

“That has been my experience today, as I’ve talked with groups of students, with faculty, with Imam Abdullah, sitting in and watching the prayer ceremony, and even coming here tonight.”

N.C State Chancellor Randy Woodson said it was a day to remember the three young students for all they were, all they wanted to be, and what they could have been.

“Tonight, we remember Razan,” said Woodson, “an amazing design student at NC State, an amazing breath of fresh air for the college, and for that school; Yusor, an outstanding biology student at N.C. State, that was so excited, having only been married for six weeks, to begin her journey in the dental school at Carolina; and Deah.

“If you’ve met Deah, you know that this is a man that possessed the most amazing bear hug that you could ever experience.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told the crowd that he appeared before them with “a broken heart.” The mayor paid an emotional tribute to the victims, and to the town he said they exemplified.

“This community, this university, this town is a welcoming town,” said Kleinschmidt. “It’s a compassionate town. It’s a peace-loving town. I know this for at least three important reasons. The three souls we lost helped not only create, but sustain that truth about who we are, as a community.”

Imam Adbdullah Antepli, the chief representative for Muslim Affairs at Duke University, said that in his 25 years of studying theology and philosophy, he’s never read the passage in any book that could make sense of a tragedy like this.

Still, he offered words of hope in troubled times.

“Three cruel, hateful bullets snuffed out lives that were just coming to fruition,” said Antepli. “We cannot undo the hatred. We cannot undo the hate crime. We cannot undo the bullet…I hope we’re able to leave here with the faith that, at the end of the day, knowledge is somehow more luminous than ignorance; that justice is more beautiful than tyranny.

“And that most important lesson of all: that love is more divine than hatred.”

Deah Barakat’s brother Farris said he’s comforted by his belief that the victims have gone to paradise, where they are elated and happy. He echoed the Imam’s call for peace and tolerance, here on earth.

“If, and it is quite possible, that this was an act based off of evil and a scared, ignorant man, do not let ignorance propagate in your life,” said Barakat. “Do not reply to ignorance with ignorance.”

Chapel Hill couple Chris and Abby Fulton told WCHL that they came out to show support for the families of the victims.

“Three people being brutally murdered so close to home…” said Chris Fulton.

“Yeah, it’s just so sad,” Abby Fulton continued that thought. “it’s like, the least you can do is come out and say this is horrifying, I’m here to say this is horrifying, and to show you that I’m one among many who want to surround you with love from your community, as much as possible.”

Need for Yik Yak Questioned on UNC Campus

Yik Yak is a social media network that allows users to anonymously post messages that can be seen by other users in their area.

The app has been under scrutiny, as of late, as some colleges and universities across the nation have banned its use. Schools do this by denying access to the app on the school’s wireless networks – leaving the option open for those on campus to access the app through their data network.

Specific to UNC’s campus, Yik Yak has been controversial after a bomb threat was made on the social media platform. Offensive statements were also posted on the app during the “Black Lives Matter” movement on campus.

UNC Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp issued the following statement questioning the need for Yik Yak:

“We are aware that some people use insensitive and hurtful language on Yik Yak. One of the difficulties we have with the site is that students and others who post messages do so anonymously, and there’s no accountability for their actions. Yik Yak adds little to no value to our community and creates more problems for our students than it will ever be worth. We want Carolina to be a place where people feel comfortable talking about race and other issues, and we are working hard to create opportunities for them to do that in a constructive and respectful way.”

Some feel that banning the app will impose on free speech. What, if any, action UNC officials will take against the social media site remains to be seen.

Chapel Hill Public Library Offering Assistance as Open Enrollment Deadline Looms

The open enrollment period to file an application for health insurance is coming to a close on February 15.

The Chapel Hill public library is offering assistance to those who are looking for help navigating the path to sign up for health care.

Shannon Bailey, the library’s Reference Librarian, says enrollment sessions are scheduled throughout the next week, leading up to an all-day sign up event on Friday.

“Anybody can come in and meet with a certified application counselor in our library computer lab,” she says. “And on Friday, Feb. 13, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. we will be hosting an all-day enrollment session.”

Leading up to Friday, Bailey says they will have sessions on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 1-4 in the afternoon, Monday evening from 5-8, and Tuesday afternoon from 2-5.

She adds they have picked Friday for their all-day session, even though the enrollment deadline is Sunday.

“We cannot predict, obviously, what the website is going to do this year,” she says. “We did learn from experience last year that the day before and the day of the site gets overloaded.”

Bailey says there are some things you will need to bring to sign up for coverage.

“In order to enroll, they will need their social security number – for themselves and everyone in their household that needs coverage,” she says. “They will need employer and income information for everyone in their household; that can take the form of W-2’s, wage statements, tax statements, [or] pay stubs.”

Bailey adds if you currently have any health coverage, you will need those policy numbers. And if you are eligible for health insurance from your employer, you will need to fill out a waiver on

Bailey says it takes a lot of teamwork to make this assistance possible.

“All of our certified application counselors are from UNC Healthcare, the League of Women Voters of Orange-Durham-Chatham, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, and UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition,” she says.

You can call ahead to reserve a time during the enrollment session; walk-ins are also welcome.

This is the second year of open enrollment since the Affordable Care Act was put into place. The law provides subsidies to those who need assistance in paying for health coverage, and it makes having health care a requirement by law. Those who are not covered are subject to a fine.

CHCCS Teams with Verizon to Provide At-Risk Students with Internet Access

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools and Verizon are teaming up in an effort to bridge the achievement gap.

120 students throughout the four high schools in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School District will receive a Google Chromebook laptop. To open up access to the internet with that device, the students will also receive a MiFi Jetpack from Verizon that will work as a mobile hotspot for internet service over Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

School Superintendent Dr. Tom Forcella says, to be able to find a solution, the school system first had to recognize there was a problem.

“One gap that became apparent was the fast-growing technology gap,” he says. “We had become a school district with two distinct groups of children; those who are digitally connected, and those who are not.”

So to bridge that gap, the school system has partnered with Verizon through the school’s Community Connection Program.

Darren Bell, the Coordinator of that program, says this will allow the students to have access to their learning materials at any time.

“We are actually tearing down the physical walls that are the schools,” he says. “Through the usage of our technology, students can now access their digital learning environment 24/7, access communication with teachers, and also other resources all the time.”

Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Al Donaldson says it is important that the student assistance does not end simply by providing the technology.

“[We need to have] check-ins with the student, and check-ins with the family,” he says. “In terms of: how often are they using their materials? What kinds of roadblocks students are running into?”

Sarahi Gamboa Ramirez is a senior at Chapel Hill High School and is also taking classes at Durham Tech. She is doing all of this work with help from the Community Connection Program.

She says her success in high school, and her collegiate classes at Durham Tech, is due to the help she has received from the program. Gamboa Ramirez is working toward becoming a nurse.

Program Coordinator Darren Bell says the rollout of the second phase of the pilot program is underway to 120 students. He adds, at the end of next year, they hope to expand the program to middle schools and eventually to elementary schools in the system.

The cost incurred for the current rollout is an estimated $80,000. Bell says that number is expected double as the expansions continue. That funding is coming from the local and state levels.

Superintendent Forcella says these measures will help level the playing field for all of the students in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School System.

Letter Grades Given to NC Public Schools

Schools across North Carolina received letter grades from the Department of Public Instruction on Thursday.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, as a whole, outperformed their counterparts across the state under the new guidelines gauging school performance.

The new standards, pushed for by the General Assembly, weighted 80 percent of a school’s grade based on their achievement score, in the form of end-of-year testing, and 20 percent on student growth.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Forcella says he would like to see the weight of the score adjusted.

“The one detriment of the grading system is that it’s 80 percent focused on strictly test score,” he says. “The Superintendent’s Association – and I believe our school board – and what we’re looking for in Chapel Hill is to have a higher percentage of the grade to consider student growth.”

The term “growth” here is referring to student development over the course of an academic year.

Forcella says he believes momentum is building for adjustments to be made to the grading scale.

“In the first year of anything it’s always a little bit more difficult,” he says. “The more they can include a variety of variables, besides just the test score, it’ll give you, I think, a truer picture of how schools are doing.”

Wake County Democratic Senator Josh Stein filed a bill, on Wednesday, to alter the evaluation of a school’s performance. Under the newly proposed legislation, growth would account for 60 percent of a school’s grade and achievement would make up the remaining 40 percent.

Forcella adds it is important to help disadvantaged students be on level ground with their peers in a learning environment.

“It’s only equitable to have the same opportunities for all kids, especially with technology,” he says. “They can check online at home for their assignments. And many teachers have blogs and share information and provide information online.”

To help bridge that technology gap, Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools have teamed with Verizon to offer laptops and internet service to some of those students that do not have access to the technology at home.

You can see the full breakdown of Chapel Hill – Carrboro and Orange County Schools’ performances below:

School                                               Grade                  Score                 Growth Expectations

Carrboro Elem B 74 Met
Carrboro High A 85 Exceeded
Chapel Hill High A 87 Exceeded
Culbreth Middle B 79 Exceeded
E Chapel Hill High A 87 Exceeded
Ephesus Elem B 77 Met
Estes Hills Elem B 74 Met
FPG Elem C 55 Did Not Meet
Glenwood Elem B 81 Met
McDougle Elem B 75 Met
McDougle Middle B 81 Exceeded
Morris Grove Elem B 84 Exceeded
Northside Elem C 69 Met
Phillips Middle B 82 Exceeded
Rashkis Elem B 78 Met
Scroggs Elem B 79 Met
Seawell Elem A 85 Exceeded
Smith Middle B 82 Exceeded
A L Stanback Elem C 55 Did Not Meet
Cameron Park Elem B 76 Exceeded
Cedar Ridge High B 70 Did Not Meet
Central Elem D 48 Did Not Meet
CW Stanford Middle C 65 Did Not Meet
Efland Cheeks Elem C 56 Met
Grady Brown Elem C 69 Met
Gravelly Hill Middle C 58 Met
Hillsborough Elem B 73 Met
New Hope Elem C 64 Exceeded
Orange High C 67 Did Not Meet
Pathways Elem C 68 Did Not Meet

You can view the full report here.

CHCCS Nominated for Green Ribbon

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System has been nominated for a national award for the “green” programs they have implemented.

Two school districts in the state have been nominated for the Green Ribbon; the other being Cherokee County Schools.

Dan Schnitzer is the Sustainability Coordinator for Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools, and he says this is a relatively new program, being introduced in 2011.

Hear the full interview here:

“The U.S. Department of Education, a few years back, started Green Ribbon Schools program,” he says. “The Green Ribbon Schools program is specifically for schools working in the fields of sustainability and environmental education.”

Schnitzer says he believes the school system can serve as a model as more schools begin embracing ways to save energy and money. He adds one way the system has shown its commitment to environmentally-friendly programs is that his job exists in the first place.

Schnitzer says he is excited about the new projects being implemented, including composting leftover food.

“One of our big successes this year was we rolled out cafeteria composting in all of our elementary and middle schools,” he says. “It’s 14 schools. Every day we’ve got about 8,000 students who are composting their lunch. And the kitchen staff is composting their food scraps from back of the house.”

He adds, through December, those schools have composted about 113,000 pounds of food, keeping it out of landfills.

Schnitzer says this not only an environmentally-friendly solution, but it also affords an opportunity to teach the students in a real-world situation. He says one of the best parts of his job is working directly with the students so that the message gets passed along and doesn’t stop with measures taken to save the district money. Although, Schnitzer adds saving money on these areas allows more of those funds to be allocated back to the classrooms.

Schnitzer says momentum is building for more positions like his to be incorporated in school systems around the state.

“Granville County has a Recycling Coordinator. Durham [Public Schools] has recently hired a Sustainability Coordinator,” he says. “So, it’s growing. And, I think, part of that is because of the leadership of districts, like Chapel Hill – Carrboro, that take the risk on it.”

He adds that it is now just a waiting game to find out if the school system will be awarded the Green Ribbon.

“With Green Ribbon, the application has been sent on to the Department of Education,” he says. “We will hear back in April. They make a live announcement as to what schools and districts nationwide are awarded.”

If CHCCS receives the Green Ribbon, they will be invited to Washington D.C. for a July ceremony.

How Far Will Google Fiber Reach? Still To Be Determined

Google made the announcement last week that it would be bringing their ultra-fast internet service to our community. But with the excitement came questions: When will we receive Google Fiber? Will my neighborhood be included? How much will it cost?

The short answer to all of those questions is – we don’t know yet.

John Bjurman, Chief Information Officer with the Town of Chapel Hill, says the town is still in discussions with Google on these topics.

“Google has not been open to some questions that we have for them,” he says. “And I think it’s probably because they don’t know themselves.”

Bjurman emphasizes the announcement was just the first step in a long process.

“If they nailed down a date for somebody and don’t meet that date, it would be very embarrassing. They don’t want to do that,” he says. “And I understand that.”

We do know Hillsborough will not be included in the Google Fiber expansion. Town officials say they are working on expanding faster internet service to areas of the town through Time Warner Cable or other competitors to Google Fiber.

Chapel Hill Town Council Member George Cianciolo says the town and Google are continuing discussions about how to move forward with implementing Google Fiber.

Ciancillo adds faster internet service is not the only benefit of the Google Fiber service in our community.

“I think the competition is great,” he says. “I think, [for] both AT&T and Time Warner, now there will be downward pressure on some of their fees given that there’s competition. That’s what for years, I think, has been lacking.”

He also says one part of the continued negotiations is providing internet access to areas throughout the community that have not been afforded the service in the past.

“I know with AT&T part of the negotiation was to provide service to our public housing areas,” he says. “It would not be gigabit service. It would be lower-level service, but service nonetheless.”

One thing Bjurman says will be very impactful in determining which areas receive Google Fiber, and in which order the service is deployed, will be registering online.

“It’s very important that people do that,” he says, “because then they’ll know engaged interest in where [Google] would want to start and where they want to go.”

Chapel Hill Man Arrested by U.S. Marshals

A Chapel Hill man was arrested, on Friday morning, on charges of discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling.

20-year-old Joseph Adam Alexander was charged with eight counts stemming from two separate shooting incidents, on December 23 and 24 of last year.

The shooting on Dec. 23 occurred at 800 Pritchard Avenue. Alexander allegedly fired two shots into the apartment; the man inside was not injured.

Alexander allegedly fired six shots into an apartment at 751 Trinity Court on Christmas Eve. A woman and two small children inside were physically unharmed.

U.S. Marshals arrested Alexander on Friday morning, without incident, at 500 Umstead Drive.

Detectives transported Alexander to the Orange County Jail where he is being held under a $500,000 secure bond. The motive behind the shootings is unknown at this time.

Chamber of Commerce Holds Annual Meeting

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce held their annual meeting on Thursday.

Several honors were handed out during the proceedings. One award went to a public servant for their partnership with the business community. This year that recognition went to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

Among the other awards handed out, longtime Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass was recognized with the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award.

The finalists for the chamber’s businesses of the year were also named at the meeting.

In the non-profit division: Table Inc., Walking Classroom, and the Compass Center for Women and Families.

In the Microenterprise of the Year: Balloons & Tunes, Community Empowerment Fund, and i9 Sports.

In the Mid-Size Business of the Year: Yes! Solar Solutions, Al’s Burger Shack, and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

In the Large Business of the Year: Carolina Inn, PHE Inc, and Summit Design and Engineering Services.

The winners will be announced at the Business Excellence Awards in April.

Google Fiber Coming to Chapel Hill And Carrboro

100 times faster Internet service: that’s the aim of Google Fiber, which is bringing ultra-fast Internet to the Triangle.

“We are bringing Google Fiber to the Triangle,” exclaimed Michael Slinger, Business and Operations Director for Google Fiber during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at Research Triangle Park. The press conference included Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Durham Mayor Bill Bell and Governor Pat McCrory.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are among only a handful of communities in the nation to have this service.

Slinger says bringing Google Fiber to the Triangle has taken time and plenty of cooperation from local officials.

“Today, we are committing to invest in, and build, a brand new fiber optic network throughout Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville and Raleigh,” he said. “Last year, we began working with these cities to explore the possibility of bringing a superfast Internet and TV service to their residents and small businesses. The local leaders rose to the challenge.”

Listen to the full press conference, with comments from Slinger as well as Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane and Durham mayor Bill Bell.


In order to provide the service, Slinger said Google officials will spend the next few months working to run thousands of miles of fiber from Carrboro to Garner.

“Building a brand new fiber optic network takes time,” he said. “It’s going to take hundreds of construction crews and hundreds of installers. Their task will be to lay enough fiber to reach from here to London and back.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL about what Tuesday’s announcement means for Chapel Hill.


Along with Chapel Hill, Google also announced a faster broadband for Carrboro, Durham, Cary, Morrisville and Raleigh. Google has had an office in Chapel Hill since its acquisition of Skia Incorporated in 2005. Last year, the team opened an office on Franklin Street.

Currently three U.S. cities can boast about having Google Fiber: Provo, Utah; Kansas City; and Austin, Texas. Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville are also included in the Google Fiber expansion.

The full statement from the Town of Chapel Hill is below:

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt along with Council Members and Town officials announced today (Tuesday, Jan. 27) that Google, Inc., is bringing its 100x faster Internet connectivity — Google Fiber — to Chapel Hill, making the community among a handful in the nation to have this service.

“Google Fiber has chosen Chapel Hill to advance its latest technologies, which is an honor and a promise about our community’s capacity as a tech and innovation hub,” Mayor Kleinschmidt said. “As a community of creative minds and innovators, we can’t wait to show the amazing things we will do with a gig.”

Currently, three U.S. cities can boast about having Google Fiber — Provo, Utah; Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri; and Austin. Along with announcing its selection of Chapel Hill for a new fiber future, Google also has selected faster broadband for Carrboro, Cary, Durham, Garner, Morrisville and Raleigh.

Improving broadband speed and choice for Chapel Hill residents has been a priority for years. When Google announced that it was accepting applications for Google Fiber technology in 2010, Chapel Hill was among the 1,100 communities that applied. Google Inc. has had an office in Chapel Hill since its acquisition of Skia Inc. in 2005. Last year, the team opened an office on Franklin Street that has played host to several community events and interns from local universities.

Google Fiber is Google’s Gigabit Internet service that offers Internet connection speeds for homes and businesses up to 100 times faster than today’s average broadband, as well as TV service with hundreds of high-definition channels. Today’s average American broadband speed is 11.5 Megabits per second. In contrast, Google Fiber will bring Chapel Hill residents access to “Gigabit” Internet connections up to 1,000 Megabits per second.

“We are here because of the hard work, passion and commitment of the town and its leaders,” said Kevin Lo, Director of Business Operations for Google Fiber. “The next chapter of the Internet will be written at gigabit speeds. These new networks will lay the foundation for a wave of innovation and economic growth. Chapel Hill is the perfect place to show us what’s possible, and we can’t wait to see what Chapel Hill will do with Fiber.”

Google will be working closely with Chapel Hill on the next steps to build a brand new fiber-optic network capable of delivering these gigabit speeds throughout Chapel Hill. The next stage of work includes designing and planning a new fiber-optic network down to a very detailed level. After this process, which will take several months, Google Fiber and Chapel Hill will begin constructing the network.

High-speed Internet will provide bandwidth that benefits business, education and health care in Chapel Hill. The one-gigabit-per-second speed will work to accelerate Chapel Hill’s burgeoning tech hub that includes Launch Chapel Hill, a start-up accelerator on Rosemary Street, 1789 Venture Lab on East Franklin Street, and UNC-Chapel Hill, which ranks among the top 10 research universities in the country. Aiding the movement of ideas from university labs to the commercial marketplace is the Carolina Research Venture Fund, which supports startups with a research focus.

What’s next? Google Fiber needs to build thousands of miles of fiber throughout Chapel Hill. They take all of the information submitted during the planning process to create a comprehensive plan for building the fiber network. The design helps enable Google Fiber to do construction more efficiently and smoothly. Some concrete steps they will take during this next phase:

- use the infrastructure data that the town has shared to create a map of where they can put fiber (e.g. existing utility poles, conduit) and areas to avoid (e.g. water, sewer and electric lines), as well as the most efficient sequence of construction.

- a team of surveyors and engineers hits the streets to fill in any missing details. You may see crews out doing detailed surveying work — lots of staring up at poles and even a bit of geological rock-testing.

- they take this information back to the office and create detailed network design maps, do work with the Town to locate network infrastructure and fiber huts, and start to prepare permitting packages.

- then they design the network, street by street.

It will take some time before Google Fiber starts signups. In the next several months they will be working with Town staff to design the network. Once there is a detailed plan in place, they can begin initial construction. Sign up on their website ( to receive updates.

For more information about community broadband in Chapel Hill, visit