Students from The College of New Jersey joined a worldwide ceremony of remembrance following the murders of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Muslim Student Association hosted a candlelight vigil in the Alumni Grove on Thursday, Feb. 12, to honor the memories of 23-year-old Deah Barakat, his 23-year-old newlywed wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. The three individuals were fatally shot in their apartment around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10.
“It’s not uncommon for us to hear about Muslims being shot or run down or harassed,” said Sarah Cassim, president of the Muslim Student Association. “But I think this one, particularly, hit a lot of students because these were students.”
The students’ 46-year-old neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been charged with three counts of murder. According to The New York Times, police are investigating whether religious hatred contributed to the killings.
“When Muslims are murdered in North Carolina, Jews in Paris, or Christians in Nigeria, the world is diminished,” Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Benjamin Rifkin wrote in an email encouraging students to participate in the vigil.
During the ceremony, dozens of students gathered to light candles, pray and mourn.
“When the MSA came together to plan the vigil, a lot of members were saying, ‘It could have been any three of us sitting in this room, and just like that, we’d be gone,’” Cassim said.
Before the vigil began, Cassim announced that there were going to be prayers recited in Arabic.
“This is not to alienate anybody who is not Muslim,” she said, “but just to remember and honor the fact that the people who died were Muslims.”
According to Cassim, many MSA members at the College are deeply mourning the Chapel Hill students’ deaths.
“These three people served their community in every way possible,” she said. “Deah had a fundraiser to go to Turkey to serve Syrian refugees. We really related to them because a lot of our MSA members are also heavily involved in philanthropy.”
The fundraiser, which is posted on the online fundraising site,YouCaring, aims to provide dental care to refugee students in Rihaniya, Turkey. Since Deah’s death, donations have climbed to $422,331 — exceeding the goal of $20,000 over 21 times over.
Cassim encouraged students to donate to the Syrian Dental Relief program during the vigil.
“His parents have asked that the fundraiser be kept alive so that the work he started in his life will not end because of his death,” Cassim said.
Across the globe, people are taking to social media to share the link to Deah’s fundraiser, as well as expressing anger over the murders and sympathy for the victims’ families by utilizing the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter.
“They were just three, young, beautiful people who were shot out of nowhere,” Cassim said. “Be that it may have been sparked by a dispute over parking, three people were still shot in their apartment.”
Hicks, who turned himself into police, admitted that he killed the three students over a prolonged dispute over parking. The victims’ families, however, are certain their children’s religion was the motivator. The incident has sparked debate over when it is appropriate to use the term “hate crime.”
Regardless of the motive, students attended the vigil not to focus on how Deah, Yusor and Razan died, but to honor the students’ memories and celebrate their lives.
“I think this tragedy is something we can all connect to on a human level,” said Andrew Edelblum, a junior psychology major who attended the event. “The vigil allowed for anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, to really come together and think about that.”
Edelblum hopes the vigil may help students see the world through a new perspective.
“Chapel Hill is a stark reminder that acts of terrorism are occurring inside our own country, that acts of terrorism are not the result of any specific group of people,” Edelblum said. “We lost three special lives earlier this week, and that’s something I think everyone who attended the vigil feels very strongly about.”
*This story was originally published in The Signal.