Editor's note: In a previous version of this story, Mendim Akiti was quoted as saying, “It’s just a show of solidarity,” Akiti said. “And I guess it’s showing that the local community is willing to extend themselves to the local Muncie community and letting them know that they are there for them.” After review, Akiti actually said "Muslim community" and not "Muncie." The story has been edited with the correct word.

Dark skies and a steady wind presided over a day marked by the somber faces and tearful eyes of people standing in silence to remember the victims of the Christchurch shooting. 

Ball State hosted a candlelight vigil March 21 in front of the Beneficence Statue in solidarity with the victims.

On March 15, 50 people were shot and killed at two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to the Associated Press

Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns spoke to those gathered about Ball State’s stance against hate crimes and expressed his support for the local Muslim community.

“We gather in solidarity, we gather with compassion, with our hearts filled with sadness for the women, men and children who were killed because of their religious faith,” Mearns said.

As the sky above grew a little darker and the evening chill hit the air, he continued to address the crowd. He said the grief of the event was “compounded” because this was “not the first act of such hatred.” 

“Sadly, our human experience is filled with so many acts of religious persecution, racism, hatred, religious acts of violence,” Mearns said. “Just last week at the Student Center, we had a program to remember the Holocaust.” 

Following Mearns’ speech, Mendim Akiti, senior philosophy and religious studies major and president of the Muslim Student Association, addressed the crowd. 

He said the vigil was “comforting” for him and all Muslims. 

“It’s just a show of solidarity,” Akiti said. “And I guess it’s showing that the local community is willing to extend themselves to the local Muslim community and letting them know that they are there for them.” 

After Akiti finished speaking, the crowd lit candles and recited the Ball State Beneficence Pledge, whose last pedge reads members of the Ball State community “pledge to value the intrinsic worth of every member of the community.”

Afterword, the crowd sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” While the tempered wind blew out the candles and not every crowd member sang, more joined in slowly over time.

Bibi Bahrami, president of the Islamic Center in Muncie, also spoke at the event. She thanked the crowd for coming and said she appreciated those who came “out of their comfort zone” to attend the event. 

Bahrami thanked the university for putting on the vigil and supporting the Muslim community. 

“As a center of education, as a center of understanding, I know we have ignorance throughout the whole world,” Bahrami said. “But education [gives] opportunity to let people come in and be educated that we are condemning this kind of act.”

She said the university’s support of the ocal Muslim community “means the whole world” to her.

Melinda Messineo, interim associate vice president for diversity and interim director of the office of institutional diversity, said she wanted to emphasize the reaffirmation of the Beneficence Pledge. 

She said Ball State needs to be beneficent and “intentionally act for the benefit of others.”

Contact Charles Melton with comments at cwmelton@bsu.edu or on Twitter @Cmelton144.