In Chapel Hill And Across The Country, Thousands Honor Slain Muslim Students

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Thousands of people gathered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Wednesday to pay tribute to the three young Muslims who were killed by a neighbor a day earlier.

The gathering was held at a central meeting space on UNC’s campus. In a show of solidarity, some of those who attended were students from nearby arch-rival Duke University. As scenes from the short lives of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha played in the background on a projector, a parade of speakers came to a podium to honor the victims.

“I know that I can’t make sense of it. Many others can’t make sense of it,” said Barakat’s brother, Farris. Speaking through his grief, he made a simple request, one that many of the other speakers echoed: “I plead that you live in their legacy,” Farris said.

Friends and family members spoke of the three victims’ commitment to public service and scholarship, as well as their general good nature. Other than the speakers, the vigil was nearly totally silent, interrupted by the occasional sound of police sirens in the distance. And though many were in tears, there was also some laughter, as mourners recalled fond memories of the three killed on Tuesday.


Dentistry students and others look on as a makeshift memorial is made at UNC.

As the ceremony ended, dental students from Barakat’s program wearing white lab coats joined hands, lit candles and wept together in a small circle. Barakat was in his second year of dentistry school at UNC.

“We’re all very close, very tight-knit,” said dental student Michael Vick. The several dozen students in the program spent eight or more hours a day together. Vick said he’d known Barakat since high school and called him “one of the nicest, sincerest guys you’ve ever met.”

Dozens of the vigil-goers wore hijabs, skullcaps or other traditional emblems of Muslim faith. But many hundreds of others seemed to come from a variety of backgrounds. Some were undergraduates, and it’s likely that many attendees may never have crossed paths at all with the victims.

“It’s powerful, and it needs to be the first step,” said Omid Safi, the head of the Islamic Studies department at Duke, of the crowd. “We need a chance for people to know they’re not alone.”

chapel crowd

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt speaks to mourners.

On Tuesday, Barakat, 23, was shot to death along with his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Abu-Salha, in their Chapel Hill home. A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged in the shooting after surrendering to police.

Police said on Wednesday that Hicks’ motive stemmed from an…

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