Around 5,500 mourners pay tribute to Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, gunned down in their apartment
At least 3,000 people attended a candlelit vigil
Nicky Woolf in Wendell, North Carolina
Friday 13 February 2015 00.42 GMT
On a soccer field lent for the occasion by North Carolina State University, thousands gathered for the funeral of three Muslim students killed in a brutal attack on Tuesday.
Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her younger sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were killed in the couple’s apartment in Chapel Hill in what family members have called an “execution-style” hate-crime. Barakat, 23, and Yusor, 21, were newlyweds. Razan was 19 years old.
That the three were beloved by the community is clear. At least 3,000 people attended a candlelit vigil on Wednesday night, while officials confirmed that 5,500 people were at the funeral Thursday afternoon.
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In an interview with the Guardian, Suzanne Barakat – Deah’s older sister – tearfully paid tribute to the three young victims. “Any time I saw them, they were happy,” she said, her voice wracked with grief. “They were inspiring. They all loved each other so much.”
Nouman Siddiqui, a family friend of the victims spoke to the crowd, saying that these were “heavy, heavy times”. He asked those present to pray for the victims and their families.
Muammar Dahnoun, the imam of the mosque who was performing the funeral, led the crowd in afternoon prayers.
Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two young victims, then took the stage. “I’ve talked to police, I’ve talked to lawyers,” he said, his voice almost a shout, his body shaking slightly with emotion. “This has ‘hate-crime’ written all over it.”
The victims’ upstairs neighbor, Craig Hicks turned himself in on Wednesday, and has been charged in connection with the killings.
After the service, the silver coffins containing the bodies of the young victims were carried aloft from the field to cries of “Allahu Akbar”, a Qur’anic phrase often repeated by Muslims meaning “God is great”.
They were taken by car to a Muslim cemetery in Wendell, North Carolina, a drive of around 22 miles. In Jaguars and taxis, in Fords and Toyotas, in pickup trucks and old Mercedes, a vast convoy followed them to the burial site – every car flashing its hazard lights in a salute.
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Walid Eltaraboulsi, a friend of Barakat, was one of those who joined the vast ad hoc procession. He told the Guardian that the vast turnout had moved him, and served to show the kind of people the three victims were, saying that Barakat’s tireless volunteer work had led and inspired him to do the same.
As earth was poured into the graves, a brief flurry of rain turned still more briefly into snow as the crowd chanted the final prayer for the dead.
Suzanne Barakat told the Guardian that for her, as well as for the wider community, the tragedy was amplified by its apparent senselessness. “It’s inconceivable that three beautiful, kind, giving, nice people would be murdered – execution style, with a bullet to the head, with intention to kill, in their own home,” she said.
“I have no words to explain how we feel.”
Sameer Abdel-Khalek, a family friend of Barakat, spoke to the Guardian after the bodies had been laid to rest, and said the day had been a whirlwind of emotions, from feeling numb to bursting into tears.
He said that he felt “inspired” by the reaction and solidarity both of the Muslim community, and of the wider community.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “it shows the light that persists even in darkness. You can only gauge the darkness by the light; and this light has overtaken the darkness that has befallen us.”