Update, 1:45 p.m.: The father of two of the three victims in Tuesday’s Chapel Hill shooting told the Charlotte Observer that he thinks the killing was a hate crime.
Mohammad Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist in Clayton, North Carolina, said that the alleged shooter Craig Stephen Hicks had previously accosted one of his daughters and her husband.
“It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha said. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”
More from the Observer:
Abu-Salha said his daughter who lived next door to Hicks wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had “a hateful neighbor.”
“Honest to God, she said, ‘He hates us for what we are and how we look,’” he said.
Randy Tysinger, a spokesman for Ripley Rand, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina which includes Chapel Hill, said federal prosecutors are aware of the allegations the shooting was a hate crime. But Tysinger stressed that the Chapel Hill police investigation is in the early stages and said the federal prosecutor’s office would wait for more details before deciding whether to launch a federal hate crime investigation.
Update, 11:20 a.m.: Police have released more information about the potential motives of the alleged Chapel Hill shooter.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” the Chapel Hill Police Department said in a statement. “Hicks is cooperating with investigators and more information may be released at a later time.”
Officials were reportedly still investigating the possibility that this was a hate crime inspired by animus towards the three victims because they were Muslim.
“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” Chris Blue, the Chapel Hill police chief, said in a statement. “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly.”
Original post: On Tuesday afternoon, three students were shot to death at an apartment near the University of North Carolina campus.*
The victims—23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19—were Muslims. Barakat was a second-year student at UNC Chapel Hill’s school of dentistry, and he was raising money to provide dental care to Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Turkey. He and Mohammad—who was planning to begin her studies in the fall—had been married just two months earlier. Mohammad Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
All three were shot in the head and pronounced dead on the scene.
The alleged shooter, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks of Chapel Hill, turned himself in to police overnight and has been arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
On his Facebook page, Hicks was a vocal atheist. He described himself as a supporter of “Atheists for Equality” and he lists himself as a fan of television shows like The Atheist Experience and authors like Richard Dawkins. His most recent posts include a picture from United Atheists of America asking “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest advocacy group for Muslims, has called on law enforcement to provide more information on the motive for the killings.
“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community.”
On Twitter, the hashtag #muslimlivesmatter is trending.
*Correction, Feb. 11, 2015: This post originally misstated that the three victims were students from the University of North Carolina. One of them had just graduated from North Carolina State University and wasn’t going to start her studies at UNC until the fall, and another was a student at NC State. The post also originally misstated that the apartment belonged to all three victims.