Gov. Pat McCrory was among the hundreds of people who gathered at N.C. State University early Thursday night to honor the lives of the three Muslim-American students killed this week in Chapel Hill.
The early evening Muslim prayer of Maghrib preceded the vigil that was held in the heart of the university campus on the Brickyard. By 5:30 p.m., the area was about one-third full.
But by the time the evening prayers began, the area was filled with a diverse crowd of people of all faiths to honor the lives of UNC-Chapel Hill dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
Police said the newlywed couple’s next door neighbor, Craig Stephens Hicks, walked into their first-floor condominium and fatally shot all three victims. Family members think religious intolerance and racial hatred fueled the shootings, but investigators said the attack was preceded by a dispute about parking in the Finley Forest neighborhood of rented condominiums not far from UNC.
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Organizers of the N.C. State vigil titled the event, The Night Of Prayer.
“To God we belong and to God we will return,” a speaker said before the call to prayer began.
NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt joined McCrory in the Brickyard.
McCrory echoed the sentiments of many present when he said that while many mourn for the families who have suffered a tremendous loss, “We also celebrate the lives of three individuals who fulfilled their potential in such a short period of time, but who still had so much to give,” the governor said.
A bitter wind and frigid temperatures that fell further as night came did not deter the somber crowd.
Mansoor Haider, an N.C. State mathematics professor, said although he did not know the slain students, he was inspired by them.
“They channeled their faith into service,” Haider said. “They had already made a mark and would have made their mark in the future. I think they really inspired others to service. The true version of the faith tells us to help everyone.”
Kayte Thomas, an N.C. State graduate who works as a social worker and therapist in Raleigh, brought her children, Ashley Neal, 9, and Tristan Neal, 7, who were bundled in blankets to keep warm.
Thomas, who is Catholic, said she wanted them to be “socially conscious.”
“We talk about current events and we do lots of events like this,” she said. “When something like this happens you show support, you come out, you grieve with the community because that’s the only way change is going to come about.”
Brian Cunningham, Grant Forrest and Chris Abernethy, who are members of Brooks Avenue Church of Christ, handed out cups of hot chocolate to help folks stay warm.
Cunningham said it was important to support and demonstrate love to all people, regardless of religious differences.
“If we can’t do that, what are we doing?” he asked.
The vigil on the N.C. State campus was one of many that took place across the country on Thursday to honor the Muslim students, whose deaths have sparked an international outcry and prompted the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. Vigils honoring the students have also occurred in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Flint, Mich., and on the UNC campus.
Between 300 and 400 people gathered in DuPont Circle in Washington for a vigil sponsored by the The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, and other community groups including the Jewish Voice for Peace.
“May their memory be a blessing,” said Seth Morrison, a member of the D.C. metro chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace,.
Cliff Smith, 75, of Washington wrote “Islam is not the enemy” on a neon green poster in 2003 to protest the Iraq war. Now, over a decade later, Smith sat on a bench at the vigil, holding the same poster with an American flag bandana on his head.
“I feel this whole thing against Islam’s has just gotta stop.,” Smith said.
Nadia Elsayed, 25, of Washington said she came to the vigil to show the family who lost their loved ones that “their loss is not in vain.”
Ellie Silverman of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed