Thousands packed a prayer service outside North Carolina State University Thursday for the three Muslim students who were gunned down earlier this week in Chapel Hill.
The ceremony, held on an outdoor soccer field, spoke of love for all people, no matter their beliefs, as somber guests surrounded the caskets of Deah Barakat, 23 , his new bride, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19.
« Christians, Muslims and Jews alike, put mercy in your hearts. All lives matter, » one speaker told the crowd — the N.C. State police estimated 5,500 in number — after singing an opening prayer.
But while the ceremony’s speakers generally spoke of love, they also spoke of justice.
« This has hate crime all over it, and I’m not going to sit down, » the women’s ailing father, Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, told the hushed crowd with a microphone.
« It was not about a parking spot. … If they don’t listen carefully, I will yell, » he continued.
The father’s anger was aimed at 46-year-old murder suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, who’s accused of murdering the trio in their condo outside the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday evening.
Hicks was a neighbor of the victims and had been engaged in a long-running dispute over parking space, police said.
Chapel Hill police have since announced that they’ve asked the FBI to help examine the evidence from the murders, WCNC reported.
Abu-Salha had previously described the victims as shot « execution style, » with a bullet fired into the back of each of their heads.
« Even though the murderer can say it was a parking dispute, whatever he was picking on, he came to that apartment with his gun two or three times before the murder, on different occasions, » Abu-Salha told MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow shortly after the service.
« My daughter, Yusor, complained and she told us she felt that man hated them for the way they looked and the Muslim garb they wore. She felt the heat has risen after she moved into the apartment and her friends came to visit and most of them wore Muslim attire. So she was worried about that. »
Some neighbors of the three killed, speaking to the Daily News, have said that parking is a big problem in the area with there not being enough spots after the number of rentals increased.
Shadi Wehbe, who said he’s lived in the building for 15 years, said as recent as two to three weeks ago Yusor Mohammad came to his door for help over the spaces.
“She seemed really rattled. Physically and audibly rattled about a note left on her car telling her to move it immediately. She asked me to move my car so she could move hers,” he said.
Yusor Mohammad described Hicks as the one who left the note, he said.
Despite this, Wehbe said he doesn’t believe that the shooting was over parking but that there was something more.
“I’ve parked in the wrong spot for 15 years but nobody has ever said anything to me,” he said.
Still another neighbor said he too has received notes on his car.
“Obviously he was an extreme case, » Phil Varnadore said of Hicks while walking his dogs in the neighborhood. « I’ve gotten a note on my car to say don’t park here again or you’ll be towed. I think this guy had a lot of other problems.”
Hicks has described himself as a « gun toting » atheist while his wife, who has since announced her plans to divorce him, defended him as one who « champions the rights of others. »
She said the killings « had nothing to do with religion or the victims’ faith. »
His ex-wife has meanwhile described him as being obsessed with the 1993 shooting-rampage movie « Falling Down » and having « no compassion at all » for other people.
Neighbors added to that dark description, saying he always seemed angry and confrontational.
Police have said they are still investigating whether the attack was hate-motivated.
Abu-Salha said he will relentlessly call upon the Chapel Hill police, the university, and President Obama until they get to the root of what happened.
Barakat, a Syrian-American, was a doctoral student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry. His wife and her sister attended North Carolina State.
The young couple married less than two months ago.
With News Wire Services