The hundreds of students and community members in N.C. State University’s Brickyard — gathered to honor three students shot and killed in Chapel Hill on Tuesday — instead shone their phone lights through the darkness.
At Thursday’s event to celebrate the lives of second-year UNC dentistry student Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her younger sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all bowed their heads in prayer and respect and remembered them.
“Our faith tells us that they are in a better place,” said Farris Barakat, Deah Shaddy Barakat’s brother.
The wind roared against his microphone as if in reply.
“Wow. I think God agrees.”
Huddled together in shared sorrow and bitter cold were family members, friends, faculty, officials, young and old, Christians and Muslims.
“I’ve been telling people we just returned from their wedding,” Barakat said.
Now, he had just come from their funeral.
So had his sister, Suzanne Barakat. At first, she didn’t want to speak. But ultimately, she wanted to help her family.
Looking out across the plaza, she said, “I’m a Tar Heel. I went to Carolina for nine years. My brother is a diehard Wolfpack fan, and in his memory, and Razan’s, and Yusor’s, who were also Wolfpacks, I just wanted to say: Go Wolfpack.”
She raised her arm above her head, her hand curled into the Wolfpack symbol. With a poignant silence, everyone in the crowd matched her gesture with their own.
On Wednesday, thousands mourned the three students in the Pit. This occasion, however, was different.
“Tonight is a celebration — a celebration of three very, very bright lights that touched so many people in their short time on earth,” said N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson.
Woodson told the crowd to continue to push for inclusivity and acceptance on campus.
“Deah, Yusor and Razan were a big part of the fabric, the amazing mosaic fabric of this great university,” he said.
Gov. Pat McCrory spoke to express his gratitude to the students who had gathered for the second time in two nights to show their compassion.
“I want to say thank you to the students of two wonderful universities representing our state, for showing unity ... and sending a message that violence is not acceptable to anyone, any place, anywhere,” McCrory said.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said she’s proud of how students and communities have come together.
“I’ve learned from Muslim friends and family that this is a time to smile and a time to celebrate these three beautiful lives of Deah, Yusor and Razan,” she said.
Farris Barakat said he hopes every student at N.C. State and UNC felt impacted by the three students during their short time on the campuses.
“I hope that means that they somehow touched your hearts in a way that you can live in their legacy,” he said. “That’s honestly the best thing you can do for my family now.”
UNC pharmacy student Arwa Omary took a class with Yusor while they were N.C. State undergraduates.
“We used to study together. She was just so kind, she was so loving, very calm,” she said. “You want to be around her.”
Tahiti Choudhury, a recent N.C. State graduate, said she didn’t know them too well, but that didn’t matter.
“I want to become a better Muslim because of them — because you never know; life is so short,” she said. “They impacted everyone.”
Josh Thomas, an N.C. State senior, didn’t know them at all.
“But if anything that I’ve gained from just hearing about (Deah),” he said, “is that I want to be the best that I can be — so I can also be someone who brings something more to my community than that of just a guy.”