Students Hold Vigil For Chapel Hill Victims

The Muslim Student Union (MSU) hosted a candlelight vigil last Thursday night, in front of the flagpoles to honor the lives of the three victims who were killed at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The service began at 6 p.m. allowing students to attend the event right after their classes.

The vigil service commemorated the lives of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha. The three were killed at a condominium in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday. All three were students. Barakat was a second-year dentistry student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Yusor, his wife, was set to enroll in the same school later this year. Her sister, Razan, was a student at North Carolina State University. The students, whom were Muslim and of Arab descent, were all from Raleigh, N.C.

Police have reported that the shooting stemmed from a long-term dispute over parking space. However, many people argue that the shooting was a hate crime tinged with religious hatred.

“With events like this (…)Islamophobia still does exist. But I’m hoping that through vigils like these, we can unite as a community and commemorate these lives,” explained biology major, Zinab Alsadek. “It serves as a reminder that our lives can be taken at any moment.”

“When my friends and I found out about the shooting, we were all heartbroken. It was very tragic,” said MSU secretary Samah Malik. “These were three students who were close to our age, college students just like us. It literally sounded like it could be anyone from any university.”

The UCI administration also released a statement about the shooting.

“We want to be equally vociferous in our condemnation of the senseless violence that took the lives of these innocent people,” explained Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham. “Let us all use this latest tragedy (…)to commit ourselves to arrest and eliminate physical, mental, economic and social violence that have no place in a civil society.”

Craig Hicks, the shooter, was charged with three counts of murder. He lived in the same apartment complex as the victims.

Before the vigil started, students from MSU distributed flowers to attendees. The service began with the hosts reciting a verse from the Quran in Arabic.

A small crowd of approximately 60 students formed at the start of the vigil, growing to encompass almost 200 students as time passed. The crowd was solemn and quiet.

Two large speakers and a picture of the three victims stood at the bottom of the steps as students from MSU held posters and lead the service. Students in the crowd were also invited to come forward and speak about their opinions on the shooting.

The service commemorated the three victims’ lives, noting their volunteer service to help the homeless and refugees in Turkey.

Members and organizers of the vigil hoped to not only commemorate the lives of the victims and raise awareness of the shooting but also to bring unity and cohesion among the various communities at the university.

A climate of Islamophobia, combined now with this shooting in Chapel Hill, instilled a sense of anxiety and a lack of peace of mind among several members of the Muslim community.

“Ever since I came to UCI as a freshman, I’ve always felt safe being on this campus,” said Yazen Nasr, an MSU representative. “But with these recent events I start to feel unsafe, not necessarily for myself, but for my friends too.”

One of the most concerning components of the shooting is that the victims were college students. All three victims were in their early twenties, attending university and living in apartments, much like students at UCI. The characterization of the victims parallels to that of a UC Irvine student, especially going to college and living in an apartment.

“It really hits home,” said Zayd Simjee, an MSU executive officer. “They were students just like us. What’s really scary is that it could have been anyone of us here at UCI. They lived lives, just like our lives.”

The vigil ended with a prayer. The attendees, who were given flowers, were asked to lay them before the images of the victims.

MSU hoped that the vigil would raise awareness about the various issues surrounding the Muslim community and bring solidarity to the university.