Thousands gather at funeral for Chapel Hill shooting victims

About 5,500 mourners assembled at N.C. State University on Thursday for funeral prayers for the three students killed in Chapel Hill this week.

Crowds knelt on a large blue tarp spread on a university soccer field across the street from an Islamic center in West Raleigh. Three caskets were carried on the shoulders of men who chanted on the way into the stadium. Burial was scheduled after the prayer service.

Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his newlywed wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were killed in a shooting Tuesday in Chapel Hill.

Nouman Siddiqui, who spoke at the event, said the community was proud that the three were being united with their creator. To anyone who had seen their smiles, their selflessness and what they did for humankind, Siddiqui said, then “you saw the beauty of Islam.”

He went on to urge the crowd to pray for the Barakat and Abu-Salha families.

A neighbor of Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Police say a parking dispute may have been behind the slayings, though families of the victims think religious animosity was involved.

The father of the two women who died, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, took the stage and called on President Barack Obama to send the FBI to look carefully at the motivation behind the slayings.

“This has hate crime written all over it,” Abu-Salha said. “Let’s stand up and see what these three children were martyred about. It was not about a parking spot.”

The FBI is assisting the Chapel Hill police process evidence in the case, but the families of the students want a full-scale investigation of the suspect’s motive.

The deaths have prompted an international outpouring of grief and support of the Muslim community. Mourners described Thursday’s service as powerful and uplifting.

A vigil is planned for Thursday night at The Brickyard at NCSU, where the students had studied as undergraduates. On Wednesday night, thousands gathered at UNC-Chapel Hill for an emotional candelight ceremony.

The killings made global news, and Thursday’s funeral drew camera crews from media outlets as far away as Japan.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer