How Atheists Are Giving Back In The Wake Of The Chapel Hill Shooting

CHAPEL HILL, USA - FEBRUARY 11: Lee Elliott (L) from Chapel Hill, N.C. and Tera Schmitt (R) from Durham, N.C. relight candles in a memorial at a vigil at the University of North Carolina for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were killed in their home the night before in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, on February 11, 2015. A 46-year-old man was charged with the murder of three Muslim students who were fatally shot Tuesday at the University of North Carolinas residential complex in Chapel Hill, police said Wednesday. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) (Photo: )
CHAPEL HILL, USA - FEBRUARY 11: Lee Elliott (L) from Chapel Hill, N.C. and Tera Schmitt (R) from Durham, N.C. relight candles in a memorial at a vigil at the University of North Carolina for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were killed in their home the night before in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, on February 11, 2015. A 46-year-old man was charged with the murder of three Muslim students who were fatally shot Tuesday at the University of North Carolinas residential complex in Chapel Hill, police said Wednesday. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) (Photo: )

(RNS) Atheists and other nonbelievers have pitched in more than $20,000 to support the pet charity of one of the three Muslim students slain in North Carolina last week, allegedly by a man who harbored anti-theist sentiments.

One of the slain students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, was a graduate dental student at the University of North Carolina and planned to travel with the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation to Syrian refugee camps. He was shot and killed along with his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and sister-in-law, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, in what police say may have started as a neighborhood parking dispute.

Barakat’s cause has now been adopted by atheists, humanists and other nonbelievers who are raising funds for SAMS in his name. The drive has so far collected $20,125 a week after the killings were committed on Feb. 10.

“We are very happy with the response,” said Dale McGowan, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist organization that encourages giving among nonbelievers. “This is about the response we would get for a natural disaster.”

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As of Tuesday (Feb. 17), Barakat’s crowd-sourced fundraising campaign had raised nearly $450,000; the original goal had been $20,000.

The idea for the Foundation Beyond Belief fundraiser came from Todd Stiefel, a humanist activist and philanthropist who lives in the Chapel Hill area. McGowan said he and Stiefel talked soon after the shootings to explore how the atheist and humanist communities should respond. The man accused in the killings, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, reportedly made numerous anti-theistic statements to family and neighbors and had links to popular atheist websites on his Facebook page.

“One of the things I think other worldview communities have dealt with in the past is what to do when a portion of your community does something inhumane or violent, something that does not reflect your values as a member of that community,” McGowan said. “We wanted to say this guy may have been an atheist but the atheist community absolutely disowns this action, and we wanted to make it clear we recognize the victims as victims and make a gesture of healing.”

Before his death, Barakat recorded a video seeking donations for a SAMS project called “Refugee Smiles.” In it, he announced his intention to travel to Turkey with SAMS this summer to perform dental work among the Syrian refugees, especially children. He was seeking donations for toothpaste, toothbrushes and other dental supplies to take on the trip.

That made raising funds for SAMS a natural choice, McGowan said. “It felt like we could to some degree make something good come out of this horrible event,” he said.

Deah Shaddy Barakat and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha. Barakat was a dental student who regularly volunteered and helped the homeless.
Deah Shaddy Barakat and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha. Barakat was a dental student who regularly volunteered and helped the homeless.
Razan Abu-Salha in an undated photo.
Razan Abu-Salha in an undated photo.
Deah Barakat was a known volunteer in his community and internationally.
Deah Barakat was a known volunteer in his community and internationally.
Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in an undated Facebook photo.
Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in an undated Facebook photo.
In Deah Barakat's final post on Facebook, he describes volunteering for the homeless in North Carolina.
In Deah Barakat's final post on Facebook, he describes volunteering for the homeless in North Carolina.
Yusor Abu-Salha, right, and her husband Deah Shaddy Barakat. Yusor's Facebook post reads, "Pack Nation."
Yusor Abu-Salha, right, and her husband Deah Shaddy Barakat. Yusor's Facebook post reads, "Pack Nation."
Yusor Abu-Salha.
Yusor Abu-Salha.
Yusor Abu-Salha "dancing with daddy," according to her Facebook page.
Yusor Abu-Salha "dancing with daddy," according to her Facebook page.
Craig Stephen Hicks, the alleged shooter, in a photo from his Facebook page.
Craig Stephen Hicks, the alleged shooter, in a photo from his Facebook page.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, right, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in an undated Facebook photo.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, right, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in an undated Facebook photo.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.