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Point of View: Shooting Victims Left Students With Something to Stand For

More than 3,000 people gathered on the NC State brickyard to honor the three slain students.
More than 3,000 people gathered on the NC State brickyard to honor the three slain students.

This Point of View column by Katherine Kehoe, a sophomore English major,  appeared first in the Raleigh News and Observer on Feb. 17, 2015. Kehoe is news editor of Technician, NC State’s student newspaper.

The sun had just set as thousands of classmates and friends of Deah Barakat; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, gathered on N.C. State’s campus last week. As the scene grew darker, it grew colder – ending about 34 degrees – with a rising wind-chill that left temperatures on the Brickyard feeling well below freezing.

Some attendees braved the cold dressed in full ski-gear. Others, being college students, were characteristically unprepared for the weather, opting for T-shirts and yoga pants instead of gloves and hats.

For us as a student body, these days have been emotional and overwhelming. Many of us traveled all over the Triangle to offer condolences to the families of the victims and to stand in solidarity with those affected by this tragedy. Many of us have stayed in, confused and angry, not knowing what it all means or where to go from here.

As a student journalist, it was my job to help cover the tragedy. From the moment I woke up last Wednesday until I finally went to bed late into the early morning, I was on the phone speaking with people who knew and loved the victims.

It was the most difficult piece I have ever had to write. I was assigned to go to the suspect’s hearing at 10:30 the morning after the shootings. Craig Stephen Hicks was there, dressed in orange, silent except to acknowledge that he understood the proceedings.

Five and a half hours later on the same day, I was in a room with Deah’s grieving parents and sister who had agreed to attend a news conference. I silently cursed reporters from both local and national outlets as they spewed unwelcome and culturally insensitive questions at his father to try to get better quotes. In the world of journalism, there is always competition to get the best story, but the lack of empathy and respect some reporters showed that day was shameful, and it haunted me throughout the rest of my writing process.

My newsroom is composed completely of students, most of whom had no journalism experience before joining the staff. It is an understatement to say we were all unprepared for what we had to do. There were breakdowns and fights and moments of learning how to cope under the pressure of an impending deadline. That night, we came together and produced a paper not as a staff but as a family.

All too often in the cases of student death in the age of social media, the tragedy has the tendency to become a spectacle. With no unifying cause, no message of love in times of senseless hate, the only way some students have to grieve together comes in the form of posting status updates on Facebook. Unfortunately, this can quickly begin to feel unsatisfying and insincere.

These three “winners,” as our fellow students have been dubbed, left us something to stand for. They were devout in their Muslim faith. They were people, and they had flaws, but throughout their lives they spread a message of love and giving to those in need. They didn’t deserve to die, and as a community we know the next step in honoring these people is fighting to keep senseless acts of hatred and violence from ending more lives and breaking more hearts.

At the Brickyard vigil, Deah’s sister, Suzanne, called for the crowd to raise up its hands in the symbol of the Wolfpack, and I felt closer to my school and to every person around me. The vigil’s solemn silence spoke to the profound effect the deaths of our classmates have already had on our community as a school. There was no talking, no texting, no snapchatting, no posting pictures to Facebook.

Every freezing gust of wind forced us closer to one another. We lost all feeling in our bodies, but we could feel the warmth in the voices of speakers urging us to celebrate their return to God rather than to mourn their departure from a world filled with evil. We stood with red faces and numb hands, ready to embrace peace, one of the root meanings of the word Islam, together as members of the Wolfpack.