More than 100 students gathered on the steps of the Sir Christopher Wren Building Portico Wednesday night to honor the lives lost in a Chapel Hill, N.C. shooting Tuesday. The candlelight vigil was a collaboration between students at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law and the College of William and Mary’s Muslim Student Association.
University students Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were killed Tuesday night in Chapel Hill. Razan Abu-Salha had recently started studying Architecture and Environmental Design at North Carolina State University, and Deah was a second year dentistry student dedicated to dental relief efforts for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Yusor was planning to begin her studies at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry in the fall.
President of the Muslim Student Association Maab Yasin ’15 and members of the Executive Board opened the vigil as students, faculty and members of the community lit candles.
Lamya Moosa J.D. ’15 is originally from Durham, N.C. and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her undergraduate degree. Moosa helped organize the event with several members of the Muslim Student Association. She knew Barakat’s older sister while at UNC.
“After reaching out to friends in the community, I learned the following things about them: I learned that they were kind, ambitious and that they were dedicated to their community,” Moosa said to the crowd. “But most importantly, I learned that they were just like us. They were loyal friends, caring siblings and loving children.”
Moosa closed her speech with a quote from the Quran: “Good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with what is good. Then you will find your erstwhile enemy like a close, affectionate friend.”
Former president of the Black Law Students Association Michael Roy J.D. ’15 also spoke regarding his frustration at the portrayal of these students’ deaths in the media.
“Do we need to know that they were educated, exuberant and selfless to care about their deaths? Why isn’t the knowledge that they were human beings enough?” Roy said. “One news source stated that this incident has caused an ‘overwhelming and fierce outpouring of pain’ from the international Muslim community. Why? We must ask ourselves why this event has not had the same effect on anyone who hears about this no matter what community they belong to?”
Following prepared prayers, convocations and reflections, the vigil opened for others to speak. Many representatives from different religious groups — the Wesley Foundation, Catholic Campus Ministry and the Canterbury Student Episcopal Ministry, spoke to offer words of support. President of the Student Assembly Colin Danly ’15 contributed to the conversation.
“When we have social strife, hardship every day, it is hard to imagine that things will get better, that this feeling of normalcy around tragedy will go away,” Danly said. “These acts are not normal, nor should we treat them as such. The only way we can achieve a better world is through love and compassion, not through hate and intolerance. What I keep coming back to is the fact that they were students. And they could [have] been walking on our campus next to us, but they just chose to pursue their education a few hundred miles south.”
The evening closed as vigil attendees blew out candles, and many in the community embraced in solidarity.
“For a lot of the Muslims on campus, the news hit very close to home as we are Muslim American college students just like Deah, Razan and Yusor, at an institution that is not too far away,” Yasin said in an email. “Although we feel safe on campus, sometimes that sense of security doesn’t extend to the greater Williamsburg community, so it was scary in a lot of ways. I think it was great for us to hear from others who acknowledged the media’s bias on the matter and felt the same way we did about the incident, because it reminded us we were not alone. We were extremely humbled by the turnout, and I know for a lot of us, we felt a great sense of comfort and reaffirmation of the love and support of the William and Mary community.”