That’s how IU freshman Bilal Khan described three men who were murdered last week in Fort Wayne, Indiana. About 60 people stood quietly at the Sample Gates for a vigil Friday evening with small white candles flickering in their hands.
Mohamedtaha Omar, 23, Adam Mekki, 20, and Muhannad Tairab, 17, were killed Feb. 24. They were reportedly shot execution style. A police investigation is ongoing.
Khan, who was friends with the three victims, spoke at the vigil. He described the three and offered sympathies to their families. IU professors Abdulkader Sinno and Purnima Bose also spoke, and although event organizers didn’t intend it to, talk turned political.
“We wanted to do our best to make sure to avoid political things and try to keep it just as a commemoration of their lives,” said Muslim Student Association co-president Sabeeh Mohammad, who helped organize the event. “Didn’t follow that 100 percent, but that was the goal of tonight.”
Omar and Tairab were Muslim, and Mekki was Christian. All were black. Rusty York, public safety director for the City of Fort Wayne, reportedly said investigators aren’t treating the murders as hate crimes.
That didn’t stop speakers from addressing issues related to hate crime. Bose spoke about the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
“The vigil tonight demands we must fully focus our attention on the political climate in the United States and the policies of our state legislature,” Bose said, adding that attitudes toward people of color have become uglier than she can remember.
Bose mentioned the recent attack of a Chinese exchange student in Nashville, Indiana, and cited Republican-proposed legislation that would bar immigration from Muslim countries, as well as anti-Muslim rhetoric from presidential candidate Donald Trump.
During her short speech, she called out lax state gun laws, a lack of laws against hate crimes in Indiana and Gov. Mike Pence’s calls to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana as reasons for growing violence.
“No parent should ever have to bury their children,” Sinno said. “And many leave other countries to come here so they would never have to do that.”
He implored the crowd to be appreciative of America’s freedoms and to consider and respect the differences of each individual.
Several more people then stepped up to speak. Suzanne Kawamleh, a graduate student, urged the crowd not to get upset and discouraged, but to instead work to build a better world by donating to a fund like the one being set up in honor of the three men, which will go toward a community center in Fort Wayne.
A student representing a Catholic group on campus said he supported refugees wishing to resettle and find safety in the U.S., and a mother spoke of the importance of intersectionality when supporting people.
The crowd remained calm and respectful, undisturbed by talk of politics, a screeching firetruck and the nearby bustle of Kirkwood Avenue. People snapped their fingers instead of applauding for speakers and held tight to their candles in the cold.
“We as a community are here to support one another, our neighbors and those in pain,” said IU senior Aysha Ahmed, the vigil’s main organizer. “We only unite in remembrance of what has passed. Let’s remember to unite in remembrance of what is present, and what is great.”