Huddling together on the steps of Old Main, Penn State students passed candles between each other, struggling to keep them alight in the wind.
A group of more than 100 students had braved what felt like subzero temperatures to honor and remember the three Muslim students who were killed Tuesday in their own apartment in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The students, identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, lived much like the candles the students clutched — brightly and too short.
Muslim Student Association Vice President Shiva Darian told the crowd it was unfortunate that it took the event to unite them, but it was awe-inspiring to see them together.
“Thank you for honoring their lives,” she said, “remembering their parents and empathizing with their community.”
Darian asked the crowd where they were Tuesday evening, if they were in “the wrong place at the wrong time,” as the alleged perpetrator’s lawyer was reported as saying.
Graduate student Jalelah Ahmed asked the group to join together to work through the grief.
“No matter the outcome of the prosecutor’s findings,” she said, “if this is deemed as a hate crime or not, we have the responsibility to do just one thing — honor the memories of these three beautiful children.”
Ahmed talked about the charity work the three victims did around their community, knowing the power of love was greater than the poison hate carries. She quoted verses from the Bible, the Torah and the Quran saying love covers all wrongs and good and evil are not alike.
She illustrated what can come of a person’s life who chooses love over hate in the lives of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., how hatred would have crippled their now-illustrious careers.
“We can’t fill our hearts with hatred,” she said. “That’s too easy. It’s too easy to get a gun than start a conversation.”
Hamza Sial echoed her sentiment, saying although they were in State College, their hearts were in Chapel Hill.
“I want people to walk away remembering that hatred isn’t what brought us here,” he said. “It is love for our fellow brothers and sisters.”
The event was opened and ended with moments of silence for the slain.
Darian said she hoped the vigil would bring light to the issue. While the killings trended heavily on Twitter and Facebook, they were almost ignored by the major news organizations.
“People were offended by how little coverage there was,” she said.
While people are generally kind in State College, she said, she does believe there is an “us and them” mentality. People see Muslims as a separate group from the rest of the country, even though she herself was born and raised in America.
“As a whole, I want people to take a moment to realize the person next to you is a person and has their own story,” she said.
The vigil was an event to reach out to the community and have them stand together.