When I first heard that three students had been murdered in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night I only connected with the tragedy through my personal relationship with the town (I lived there for several years and some of my family still lives there), frustration from what I assumed was a faith-targeted crime, and sadness at their violent deaths. It was not until the following day that I learned that all three students had attended my university. Two were NC State alumni and one was a sophomore in the College of Design.
On Thursday evening, I found my way to the center of campus life, the brickyard, where our Muslim Students’ Association had organized a candlelight vigil. The area was already filled with people because I was running late and the darkness that preceded the setting sun made it difficult to pick out my girlfriend from the crowd. When I caught up with her she told me that I had just missed the call to prayer. She described the call as being “intense and exotic” with a serene backdrop of leaves blowing in the breeze as the color faded from the sky. It was her first time hearing a muezzin reciting a call to prayer and I think for many present it may have been cause for a similar sense of awe.
Standing in a gathering of several hundred, I was struck most by the deafening silence. No one spoke during the prayer nor afterward. One speaker after another entered and exited the stage without sound or movement from the crowd. The Chancellor, the Governor, the Student Body President, the Vice Provost all spoke and gave their condolences but the huddled masses showed no sign of breaking the silence.
Then the mood changed. When Deah’s older brother Farris came to the microphone, the chilling winter wind faded from conscious thought and the crowd held up their lit cell phones in support. He spoke of his faith that all three were in a better place and of the incredible journey that transpired after their deaths. I was, at first, taken aback by his mention of their deaths led to this “amazing experience” but then I realized why I was there.
Both my girlfriend and I wanted to share our love and support for our grieving friends and for the targeted minority within our community. This is what he was referring to: thousands attended the vigil in Chapel Hill the night before, thousands attended the funeral, and hundreds within our own community showed up to carry on the legacy of support. If we, as a community can aid in the grieving process then I feel compelled to be a part of that. When Farris exited the stage he did so to a large supportive applause.
One of the most powerful moments during the vigil was when Deah’s older sister Suzanne Barakat spoke. She described herself as an alumni of UNC and a Tar Heel. Normally such an admission would draw jeers from State students but not tonight; respectful silence persisted. Suzanne then raised her hand and made the Wolfpack sign.
The community responded in kind. She also excited to applause.
I did not know Deah, Yusor, or Razan but I know that their deaths led to a beautiful communal gathering in support of their grieving friends, family, and the campus-wide Muslim community. I am proud of my Wolfpack today.