Miami-Dade County

Mourners in downtown Miami honor three Muslim students killed in Chapel Hill

Eman Abdelhamid, center, 24, of Pembroke Pines, stands in vigil with Nour Haykal, right, at the Torch of Friendship for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the three people of Muslim faith that were killed in Chapel Hill, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015.
Eman Abdelhamid, center, 24, of Pembroke Pines, stands in vigil with Nour Haykal, right, at the Torch of Friendship for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the three people of Muslim faith that were killed in Chapel Hill, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

They stood in a circle filled with orange flowers and candles.

Some cried and others stood silent as they honored the lives of three Muslim students who were killed earlier this week in a condo complex near the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill campus.

“It felt like it was one of us,” said Giancarlo Angulo, 25, of Davie. “They were a representation of all college Muslims.”

Angulo was one of the dozens who gathered in front of the Torch of Friendship monument near Bayside Marketplace Thursday night to honor the three slain students: Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his 21-year-old wife of less than two months, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Police said the shooting stemmed from a long-standing parking dispute with neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, a self-described “gun-toting’’ atheist who turned himself in and was jailed on first-degree murder charges.

The incident has sent shock waves around the world, with some calling it a hate crime. Local police say they are still investigating a motive.

“It’s an outrage to see people killed execution-style like that,” said Muhammed Malik, a human rights advocate who helped organize the downtown Miami vigil. “It makes you think about the kind of a society we want to live in. We need to reaffirm the feelings of love that we think should bind everyone together.”

The vigil was the result of a grassroots effort by Malik and others throughout Florida, who coordinated simultaneous vigils in Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando and Jacksonville in less than 24 hours.

In Miami, more than 100 people created a circle around the Torch of Friendship at 401 Biscayne Blvd., where they consoled one another and took turns voicing their feelings.

“It could have been any one of us,” said one man in the circle. “They are part of our community.”

“Now is the time to take some action to address Islamophobia,” said another.

Several people claimed to have connections, either directly or indirectly, to the slain students. Barakat was in his second year of dental school at UNC-Chapel Hill; his wife was due to enroll in the school later this year. Her sister was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Although Angulo never met Barakat, he said he texted with him before attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He recalls Barakat being kind, and said he was known for his big heart and desire to help people.

“He was incredibly welcoming,” Angulo said. “He always said, ‘If you’re ever in Chapel Hill, get in touch with me.’ I never got the chance to get up there, but he was an incredibly welcoming guy.”

To honor the trio, a day of service will be held Saturday in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The group Project Downtown is welcoming people to volunteer with them. They will give out personal hygiene kits, dental supplies and food to anyone in need at 1 p.m. at Stranahan Park, 10 E. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.

“When you talk to anyone about them, they talk about how they made a difference in their community and tried to help as many people as possible,” said Duff Ullah, 25, of Davie, who is a member Project Downtown.

For more information about volunteering at Saturday’s event, contact Duff Ullah at 954-257-8331, or email ProjectDFtLauderdale@gmail.com.

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