Vigil honors students killed in Chapel Hill

Ruby Wallau/Daily
Students gather on the Diag Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil held by the University's Muslim Student Association in honor of the three students shot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Buy this photo

By Lara Moehlman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 11, 2015

Members of the University community gathered Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil on the Diag to honor the memory of three Muslim students shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were all found dead in their apartment Tuesday evening.

Police linked it to a dispute over parking, but are also investigating the incident as a potential hate crime. All three of the victims were Muslim.

Holding cups containing candles, roughly 200 people gathered around memorial candles placed on the ground to spell out “CHAPEL HILL” before listening to several speeches and recitations made by students, faculty and community members delivered from the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library.

The University’s Muslim Student Association hosted the hour-long event.

Barakat was a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina. His wife was planning to enter the same school in the fall. Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was an architecture and environmental design student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Police have identified the shooter as 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, who also lived in the apartment complex. While the suspect’s wife said in a press conference that her husband was not motivated by religion, members of the victims’ families have argued the incident should be characterized as a hate crime. No motive has yet been officially identified.

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, reported large crowds had gathered to attend a vigil on campus Monday night.

At the vigil in Ann Arbor, many students addressed Islamophobia in the United States. They expressed anger over what they called the U.S. media’s biased coverage of the Chapel Hill shooting, and said the deaths should be seen as a hate crime.

“We’re doing this ceremony because we think it’s important to bring the awareness that this was done because of hate crime,” said Education senior Sheza Mansoor, a member of the MSA.

Mansoor also stressed the importance of the vigil for bringing together students of all different identities on campus.

“We shouldn’t be differentiated by our religion or race or culture,” he said. “We all stand together because it’s part of humanity to stand against injustice, and this is complete injustice.”

Faculty and staff members also attended the vigil to demonstrate support for Muslim students on campus.

Trey Boynton, director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, who spoke during the ceremony, expressed the importance of coming together in times of tragedy in an interview with The Michigan Daily after the event.

“Vigils like this allow us to come together in community, and mourn together, and be sad together, and ask for justice together,” Boynton said. “I think that that’s important when you’re feeling deeply saddened by an act of violence like this.”

Engineering graduate student Andrew Lynch, who participated in the vigil, said the event was representative of the University’s diverse community and growing atmosphere of acceptance.

“The fact that we are at Michigan means that we always are willing to make space for everybody at the table, and that everyone’s welcome to express who they are,” Lynch said.

However, in terms of the University’s atmosphere of inclusivity, Lynch said there was still some improvement to be made.

“We’re working on it,” he said. “I think we’re better off than a lot of places, but we still absolutely have a lot of work left to do.”

LSA senior Saher Rathur, who spoke during the ceremony, said she was happy to see both Muslim and non-Muslim students gathered at the vigil.

“I think it was really important for the Muslim community on campus to see that solidarity from people who aren’t Muslim,” Rathur said.

However, Rathur added that Islamophobia is an ongoing issue for the Muslim community, and both the Muslim and non-Muslim community have to work together to combat it.

“A lot of times we’re told that whatever we’re feeling, in terms of when people say heinous things to us, or do heinous things, there’s another reason behind it. There must be something else.” she said. “But, no, Islamophobia exists.”