Huge Crowd Attends Vigil for Chapel Hill Shooting Victims

North Carolina (United States) – A large crowd gathered at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, campus on Wednesday night to mourn the loss of three Muslim students who were shot dead near campus Tuesday.

All three victims — Deah Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19 — were shot in the head. A 46-year-old man named Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself over to the authorities and was charged for the crime on Tuesday.

More than a thousand students, faculty and members of the community gathered for a vigil in this university town on Wednesday evening to remember and pay tribute to the three young Muslim-Americans. Holding candles as they stood in a sunken courtyard known as “The Pit,” many tried to make sense of the killings of young students.

People gather at UNC-Chapel Hill's "Pit" to mourn Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Feb. 11, 2015. Travis Long / The News & Observer via AP

People gather at UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Pit” to mourn Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Feb. 11, 2015. Travis Long / The News & Observer via AP

“I’m just in disbelief,” said Serene Ahmad, an 18-year-old family friend of the victims. “I just lost three of the best people I’ve met. Every time you saw them, you’d never feel remorse or pain. They’d bring a special light into the room.”

People gather at UNC-Chapel Hill to mourn Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Feb. 11, 2015.

People gather at UNC-Chapel Hill to mourn Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammed and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Feb. 11, 2015.

Both UNC chancellor Carol Folt and North Carolina State University chancellor Randy Wooden spoke at the vigil, as did the victims’ family members, according to WNCN.

In Raleigh, 30 minutes from Chapel Hill, the Muslim Students Association at North Carolina State University arranged for buses to shuttle students to Wednesday’s vigil.

At the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, where Barakat had studied, a table was set up with a collection of flowers, candles and a photo of the victims.

More vigils are planned in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, California, Texas, Michigan, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina. A Facebook page has been set up to keep track of events.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and is in police custody. Authorities said on Tuesday that a preliminary investigation into the deaths suggested the killings may have been the result of a simmering parking dispute but have not ruled out the possibility that it may have also been hate motivated.

Police say they believe the shooting might have been related to an ongoing dispute over a parking space between neighbors, but say they have not determined a motive.

The father of two the dead, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, said Wednesday he believed it was a hate crime. “It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha said. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime.”

Shooting spawns #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting

Following news of the deaths a hashtag #ChapelHillShooting started trending on Twitter that raised concerns and fears. The shootings also sparked concern that Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters were targeted because they were Muslim, with the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter going viral after the news of the killings surfaced. Hicks, on his Facebook page, had a history of posting anti-religious articles and photos.

‘Our Three Winners’

Barakat was a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina, where his wife was planning to begin her dental studies in the fall. Her sister was a student at North Carolina State University. Barakat and Yusor married on 27 December. The newlyweds attended North Carolina State University as undergraduates. Yusor’s younger sister Razan was an undergraduates at the nearby North Carolina State University studying architecture, according to authorities and school officials. Barakat had been fundraising for a trip this summer to Turkey, where he was going to provide dental care to Syrian refugees. After his death, many took to his fundraising page to donate and to express sympathy.

muslim family chapel shooting

Victims of North Carolina shooting: (From left) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Photo: Facebook

In a Facebook post, Barakat’s brother, Farris, wrote of his shock and devastation at hearing the news.

“I haven’t even begun to fully comprehend what has happened. But I know for sure those three together have done so much we are all proud of,” Farris wrote.

Farris created the Facebook page “Our Three Winners” to commemorate the three victims and provide updates from the family. There, friends are sharing photos, videos and thoughts of the newlyweds and Razan.

“I know my brother, his wife, and his sister-in-law are together as ultimate winners,” Farris wrote. “This life was only ever a test and they have passed with flying colors. They have won, and for that I rejoice.”