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Community Center to Honor 3 Muslim-American North Carolina Students Murdered

by Elisha Fieldstadt and Ayman Mohyeldin /  / Updated 
Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha posted on Barakat's Facebook page on June 12, 2013. Craig Stephen Hicks is suspected of shooting the three young Muslims to death near the University of North Carolina and has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, officials and friends said Wednesday.via Facebook

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The murders of three Muslim-American college students almost one year ago devastated their families, but it didn't stop their loved ones from an important mission: making sure the trio's legacy of service lives on.

A tweet that was written more than a year before Deah Barakat, 23, was killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Feb. 10 with his wife and sister-in-law has served as the inspiration for the opening of a new community center meant to honor their legacy.

A neighbor is accused of fatally shooting Barakat and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, following a dispute.

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"I have a dream one day, to have a unified and structured community," Barakat tweeted in July 2014. "Have a voice in our society and support the youth with their projects."

That tweet, along with the meaning of Bakarat's first name — light — led his brother, Farris Barakat, to spearhead Project Light House.

The project is transforming a house that Deah Barakat left to his mother in downtown Raleigh into a center focused on community outreach, including tutoring services, feeding the homeless and educating people about Islam.

 Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha posted on Barakat's Facebook page on June 12, 2013. FACEBOOK

"Even if you die, your good deeds don't have to end," said Yusor and Razan's mother, Amira Bamyeh, who shared that her daughters and son-in-law dedicated much of their time helping people in need, at home and internationally.

"Their legacy will stay alive," she added.

The launch of the center — dubbed a "Day of Light" — is scheduled for Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the day the three were killed.

Related: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Shootings: Obama Calls Slayings 'Outrageous'

Craig Hicks, 46, has been charged with the murders, and is set to face a death penalty trial.

Chapel Hill police have said that the shootings were "motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," but their families believe the murders were a hate crime.

"For the kind of children we have raised ... how peaceful they are, and how giving they were and how helpful they were, [this] was definitely not about a parking dispute," said Barakat's father, Namee.

"I think our kids are probably martyrs," said Yusor and Razan's father, Mohammad Abu-Salha. "They died for peace, for love, for justice, for helping others and for being who they are."

Related: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Shooting: Who Were the Three Victims?

And the goal of the center will be to honor and display those values that the victims' families believed they were killed for, said Barakat's mother, Deah.

She said she hopes the "Light House" will encourage anyone who encounters it to "be in service of others, have pure heart and respond to hate with love."

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