Thousands of students, friends and community members filled the Pit, the crowd stretching far back into the quad. And not one person said a word.
Instead, they turned their faces, many lit by candlelight, upward toward the smiles that were flickering on a screen in the Pit. Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot and killed Tuesday at the off-campus Finley Forest neighborhood.
Sophomore Omar Rezk, who said he knew Barakat personally, said while members of the community are mourning an enormous loss, he takes comfort in knowing the family is now in heaven.
“All of us belong to God, and to Him we will return,” he said, quoting a verse that is often said when a member of the Muslim community dies.
This idea was emphasized almost every time someone close to one of the victims got up to speak.
Deah Shaddy Barakat’s older brother, Farris Barakat, called on attendees to trust in God — even during tragedy.
“Praise be to God. We say that in good and in bad, knowing that God is the most wise. We depend on God the wise in this time,” he said.
Like many of the speakers at the vigil, Farris Barakat emphasized the charitable and pious life that Deah Barakat and his wife lived.
He pleaded with the crowd, asking that they live by the legacy left by each of the victims.
“These three individuals lived an amazing life,” he said. “We lost three great citizens of this world and of this country.”
Omid Safi, director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, also shared his thoughts at the vigil.
“As we face this ugly, horrible reality, there are things we can do and things we cannot do,” he said.
Safi said students can take comfort in imagining the lives the victims could have led.
“We can join the families in their grief and hold them in our prayers and thoughts. We can take part in fulfilling their dreams: they were all proud Syrian Americans, proud Muslim Americans,” he said. “Let’s fulfill their dreams — they wanted to change the world. Let’s pray in every language. Let’s pray in action.”
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Chapel Hill is a compassionate, peace-loving town. And the three victims embodied those values, he said.
“They took the values of this university and this town and lived them joyously,” he said.
Like many of the vigil’s attendees, Kleinschmidt said he was still grappling with the reality of what happened.
“I have questions about why and how something like this could happen,” he said.
While many speakers said they couldn’t comprehend such an act of violence, others suggested that, sometimes, the most tragic events reveal the ability of a community to band together.
“Often, this kind of tragedy reveals the best of most communities,” Safi said.
Farris Barakat admitted that grief would be unavoidable.
“We are going to cry because we miss them,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do on Saturday mornings when it’s time for family breakfast.”
But he reminded everyone in the crowd that the victims were all living their lives for God, in anticipation of being returned to Him.
“Life is a bridge. You don’t want to build on the bridge; you want to build when you get there,” he said.
He said that while it might seem like the victims are gone, they have actually finally made it to where they’re supposed to be.
“They got to their destination. They are home,” he said. “He beat me home.”