RALEIGH — Moments before an event took place honoring the one-year anniversary of the Chapel Hill shooting victims, people on North Carolina State University’s campus went about their daily business.
They went about their ordinary lives like Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salaha and her younger sister Razan did on the day they inhaled their last breath. Students were completing homework, grabbing dinner before various meetings and socializing with each other like normal college kids do.
But when the grounds crew finished setting up the memorial, hundreds flooded the field adjacent to Talley Student Union to honor three promising young lives snatched incredibly too short.
“We’re not here to cry, but to remember their legacy,” said Mohammad Abu-Salaha, the father of Yusor and Rozan. “It is a whole community and a whole country coming together. It’s heartwarming and maybe a step towards healing.”
Warm hearts and tender spirits were abundant despite the frigid 31-degree temperatures during the “Day of Light” event Wednesday afternoon. People close to the families embraced one another, participated in a Muslim call to prayer and lit candles to offer respect to the souls who inspired the “Our Three Winners” foundation.
Yet as loved ones and supporters smiled and shared stories of how the three impacted their lives, tears were unavoidable because of the tragic way they died.
Barakat and his wife, both NC State graduates and students of UNC's dental school, were shot and killed in their Chapel Hill home Feb. 10, 2015 over an alleged parking skirmish. Rozan, a 19-year-old architecture student at N.C. State, was also killed.
"The narrative over a parking dispute is a problem because it continues to threaten us Muslims in America,” said Farris Barakat, the brother of Deah. “If this was an issue over a parking dispute, then Rosa Parks' issue was over a bus seat and nothing more.”
Though the accused murderer, Craig Hicks, has claimed the incident was over a parking dispute, he was charged on three counts of first degree murder. He was also charged with a possible hate crime prosecution pending the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District’s deliberation.
While the tragedy remains horrific, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt echoed how it has forever bound the university and Muslim community.
But the families of the slain students said more work is necessary to solve the problem of Islamophobia.
Despite the geographical difference, the ramifications of the tragedy have affected Elon University’s campus. In light of the recent global issues involving Islamic tolerance, University Chaplain Jan Fuller has urged people to educate themselves and be more open to people who are different.
“It’s easy for us to say, ‘This isn’t my problem so I don’t have to worry about it,’” Fuller said. “When people are isolated and shunned from society, they are susceptible to anger. We need to get out of our comfort zone and get to know Muslims. That will truly show we are trying to live in harmony despite our differences.”
Abu-Salaha said he hopes more religious tolerance will emerge in the wake of the loss.
“We will not allow hate or people that use bigotry to win this,” he said. “Some people who are scared by xenophobia said at points that Islam would be a threat to their way of life, the American way of life. I just told our friends at the press conference if you look carefully, this country has a rainbow of ways of life.”