The UCF community came together Thursday night for a vigil to remember three Muslim students who were shot and killed in North Carolina, a slaying that has the nation rattled.
UCF alumni, students and members of the Muslim community gathered at the Reflecting Pond to honor the students killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., reportedly over a parking dispute.
Chapel Hill police identified the three victims as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. The two female victims were sisters. Barakat and Yusor Mohammad were newly weds.
National media reported they were university students, Muslims of Arab descent and regularly volunteered in the area. Chapel Hill police arrested and charged their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, with three counts of murder after he turned himself in for the slayings. Police say the dispute was over parking spaces in their apartment complex.
Hicks described himself as an atheist on his Facebook page, criticizing religion and denouncing religious groups. After attention was drawn to Hicks’ Facebook page, civil rights advocates from the Muslim community declared it a hate crime, accusing Hicks of targeting the students for their Muslim faith.
The killings have sparked debate and controversy among the public, including students.
UCF alumnus Rasha Mubarak, 29, and her husband planned the vigil as soon as they learned of the killings. Mubarak is Palestine American Muslim who serves as a board director at the Arab American Community Center and is newlywed herself.
“I think what happened to three young American heroes, it shakes the core of the Muslim community and across the country,” Mubarak said. “This is very disturbing for many of us.”
UCF alumnus and social worker, Drionne Arney, 24, sat on the grass waiting for the vigil to begin.
“I feel sad,” Arney said. “As a black American woman, after everything that’s been happening in the news, I feel like we’re going through another civil rights movement that’s bigger than the one we know of.”
The vigil began at 6:50 p.m. While facing the guest speakers, children huddled together holding a banner with the victims faces, the trending Twitter hashtag, #MuslimLivesMatter, and a sign that read, “End Hate Speech, End Hate Crime #ChapelShooting.”
Ten representatives from various on-campus organizations introduced themselves in front of the crowd. Mia Warshofsky, a sophomore majoring in international relations and Spanish, was one of those representing her organization, Students For Justice In Palestine at UCF.
Although she’s not part of the Muslim community, Warshofsky said she’s Jewish and felt “as a religious minority” she had to come out and show her solidarity.
“It’s so sad,” Warshofsky said. “We like to think of America as tolerate, so accepting and to have three people killed like this… I want [the Muslim community] to not feel alone. Hatred will not win.”
Seven speakers spoke at the vigil about the victims, including UCF alumnus Arthur Richards from ICNA Relief USA and David Williamson of Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC).
Jillian Emily Pikora, a freelance writer, attended the University of North Carolina with two of the victims.
Pikora held back tears as she talked of the two sisters and how she broke Ramadan fast with a dinner at the Barakat’s home. After speaking, she broke down, wiping tears away as Mubarak took the megaphone.
Mubarak asked the police to investigate the killings as a hate crime. She also asked the attendees to email the local media in covering the Muslim community stating, “It took 10 hours for some media coverage.”
Vigils were held nationwide for the victims, including in downtown Miami and at the University of South Florida.
The three students, all shot in the head, were killed Tuesday.
“It was over a parking spot. That’s questionable itself,” Mubarak said of the killings. “This vigil here is something [the three victims] would have planned. They would have been behind this mic.”