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Hundreds in Raleigh attend vigil to honor slain Muslim students

Gov. Pat McCrory was among the hundreds of people who gathered at N.C. State University early Thursday night to honor the lives of the three Muslim students killed this week in Chapel Hill.

The early evening Muslim prayer of Maghrib preceded the vigil that was held in the heart of the university campus on the Brickyard. By 5:30 p.m., the area was about one-third full, but by the time the evening prayers began, the area was filled with a diverse crowd of people of all faiths, backgrounds and religion to honor the lives of UNC-Chapel Hill dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19; of Raleigh.

Police said the newlywed couple’s next door neighbor, Craig Stephens Hicks, walked into their first floor condominium and fatally shot all three victims.

Hicks turned himself in to police shortly after the shootings. Family members think religious intolerance and racial hatred fueled the shootings, but investigators said the attack was preceded by a dispute about parking in the Finley Forest neighborhood of rented condominiums not far from UNC.

The vigil on the N.C. State campus was one of many that taken place across the country on Thursday to honor the Muslim students, whose deaths have sparked an international outcry and prompted the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. Vigils honoring the students have also occurred in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Mo. San Francisco and Los Angeles, Ca., Flint, Mich. and on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

A funeral service was held for the victims in West Raleigh, followed by a burial service in Wendell.

Many people, irrespective of their faith, were moved upon hearing about the deaths of the three students, who had already selflessly gave to others.

Yusor Abu-Salha was to enroll at UNC’s dental school next fall, joining her husband there. They planned to open a practice together, but both advocated for global dental health, providing care and supplies to people in the United States and the Middle East. On Jan. 29, Barakat posted a Facebook photo of a Durham project that gave dental supplies and food to more than 75 homeless people this year.

They all attended N.C. State University as undergraduates, where they all earned honors. Barakat finished in 2013, and Yusor Abu-Salha graduated last fall. Razan Abu-Salha, a design student, made the dean’s list in her first semester in the fall.

Organizers of the vigil titled the event, “The Night Of Prayer.”

“To God we belong and to God we will return,” a speaker said before the call to prayer began.

Along with Gov. McCrory, the vigil on N.C. State’s campus was attended by the school’s chancellor, Randy Woodson, along with UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt.

McCrory echoed the sentiments of many present when he said that while many mourn for the families who have suffered a tremendous loss, "we also celebrate the lives of three individuals who fulfilled their potential in such a short period of time, but who still had so much to give."

Despite the frigid, quickly falling temperatures and a bitter wind, hundreds arrived at the vigil to pay tribute.

Mansoor Haider, a N.C. State mathematics professor, said although he did not know the slain students, he was inspired by them.

“They channeled their faith into service,” Haider said. “They had already made a mark and would have made their mark in the future. I think they really inspired others to service. The true version of the faith tells us to help everyone.”

Kayte Thomas, an N.C. State graduate who works as a social worker and therapist in Raleigh brought along her children, Ashley Neal, 9, and Tristan Neal, 7, who were bundled in blankets to keep warm.

Thomas, who is Catholic, said she brought her children because she wanted them to be “socially conscious.

“We talk about current events and we do lots of events like this,” she said. “When something like this happens you show support, you come out, you grieve with the community because that’s the only way change is going to come about.”

Brian Cunningham, Grant Forrest and Chris Abernethy, who are all members of the Brooks Avenue Church of Christ handed out cups of hot chocolate to help folks stay warm.

Cunningham said it was important to support and demonstrate love to all people, regardless of religious differences.

“If we can’t do that, what are we doing?” he asked.