CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — On Wednesday night, the heart of the University of North Carolina campus turned into a place of mourning, as an estimated 1,500 people gathered to remember the lives of three young Muslim students killed on Tuesday afternoon.
Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, was shot dead in her Chapel Hill apartment, along with her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, and her husband Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23. Their alleged killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has turned himself in to authorities and been charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
The crowd on Wednesday night, comprising university students from the area and other Chapel Hill residents, stood in silence as they lit candles and waited to hear Farris Barakat, Deah Barakat’s older brother, respond to fears in the community that the killings were motivated by hatred for Muslims.
“I’ve had people try to apologize for this act, but believe me — as a Muslim, I know one act can’t define a mass,” Farris Barakat said.
He cautioned against retribution. “Do not fight fire with fire,” he said in measured tones. “Do not let ignorance propagate in your life. Do not meet ignorance with ignorance.”
Aya Zouhri, 22, went to remember her friend Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, whom knew since third grade. They shared “best friends forever” necklaces and promised to be neighbors and go to each other’s weddings, Zouhri said. “I just remembered that attending each other’s funeral was not on that list.”
The close-knit Muslim community in the Triangle, the metropolitan area formed by the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, is unsettled in the aftermath of Tuesday’s killings. Authorities investigating the incident say that they have not yet determined whether religious hatred motivated the shooter, but it has sparked widespread unease and fear in the community.