The silence that echoed over the Pit at UNC-Chapel Hill Wednesday was overwhelming, as students from around the state gathered to mourn the loss of the three victims who were killed Tuesday.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were found dead on Tuesday evening.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who was their neighbor in the complex, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in Chatham County where he surrendered willingly to the authorities.
Authorities are still in the process of investigating the murders and have yet to rule out the possibility of the shooting being a hate crime.
Nearly 5,000 people gathered Wednesday night at the Pit to participate in the candlelight vigil service held to pay respects to the three students.
The vigil drew attention from campuses from across North Carolina, with students from UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State, Duke and NC Central attending the vigil.
UNC-CH’s Chancellor Carol Folt said both NC State’s and UNC-CH’s students are unified in their sorrow of the victims.
“We’re all here because we know that our communities are actually one big community,” Folt said. “When we think of our Muslim students just as we think of other students across our campuses, we know to bond together, we actually have to grow and we have to be part of a larger whole.”
NC State’s Chancellor Randy Woodson said in order to fully respect the victims, the public has to remember them for what they were, but more importantly what they wanted to be and what they could have been.
“We feel a sense of unease, a lack of safety,” Woodson said. “It’s our responsibility and our collective responsibility as a community to ensure that we area kind of inclusive and welcoming environment that we would expect our campuses to be and in fact what they are for the country.”
All three of the victims attended NC State. Deah graduated with a degree in business administration in 2013 and was a second-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry.
Yusor graduated with a degree in human biology in December 2014. She was planning to attend UNC’s School of Dentistry in August.
Deah and Yusor were married on Dec. 27and were living together in their condominium complex located in Chapel Hill.
Razan was a first-year design student studying architecture and had started classes last fall.
Walid Nazari, an NC State alumnus, said the public outpouring that came from this event affects all people involved, regardless of race or religion.
“You see how many lives are touched just by one person. It doesn’t matter what their race is,” Nazari said.
Nazari also said that both Deah and Yusor were benevolent people who affected many lives through their charity work.
“Deah did all these things for Syria while they’re going through crisis, even though he has work and school,” Nazari said. “Yusor was right behind him in everything he did, even going to Turkey together last summer to help the children in Kilis.”
Abdullah Dorgham, also an NC State alumnus, said the outcry on various media networks around the world was encouraging.
“Seeing people from all over North Carolina and all over the world coming in, to stand here and share moments of joy and sorrow really hits home,” Dorgham said. “I want them to know their presence here has left a huge impact on the entire community, family, friends and all those that loved the victims, and we appreciate them so much for being here.”
Payal Patel, a student at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, said the discrimination people faced of different religions needs to be discarded.
“We need to show that no matter what religion you are whether it’s Muslim, Christian or Judaism, it doesn’t matter because everyone’s equal and all lives matter, Muslim lives, white lives, black lives,” Patel said.
Deah was in the process of raising money for Project: Refugee Smiles, which was targeted toward helping Syrian Refugee Students in Turkey. Due to tremendous support, the fundraiser has raised more than $170,000.
Omid Safi, director of Duke Islamic Studies, said the final message that the community has to take away from this tragedy is one of love and not hatred.
“I hope we leave here with the faith that at the end of the day knowledge is more luminescent that ignorance, that justice is more beautiful than tyranny and that the most important lesson of all that love is more divine than hate,” Safi said.
The NC State Muslim Students’ Association will be hosting a vigil tonight at 6 p.m. on the Brickyard.