Three young Muslims were killed Tuesday evening in Chapel Hill, a university town in North Carolina, by a man, who, local authorities said, then turned himself in.
The alleged shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, is cooperating.
The victims were identified as husband and wife Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and Abu Salha’s 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
Barakat was a doctoral student in UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry. The sisters were NC State University students. Barakat, a Syrian American, and Yusor married last December.
The police said in a statement Wednesday that a dispute about parking may have led to the incident: “Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbour dispute over parking. Hicks is cooperating with investigators.”
All three had been shot in the head.
Initial responses to the killings, which some people complained went under-reported in media, focussed on the victims’ religion, that they were killed because they were Muslims.
Hate-crimes against Muslims accounted for 14.2% of the 1,163 religion related offenses reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigations in 2013.
“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," said Nihad Awad, national executive director Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The police had also considered it. “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,” said chief Chris Blue of the Chapel Hill Police Department.
As word spread over the killing, mostly online in the absence of what many considered under-reporting of the incidence in local media, outrage mounted.
A cartoon with a quote blurb sarcastically calling out media coverage — “Three young Muslims killed by a lone gunner? No breaking news here” — quickly went viral online.
Barakat was scheduled to travel with 10 other dentists this summer to Reyhanli, Turkey, according to Charlotte Observer, a local news organization.
There, they planned to treat Syrian refugee students for urgent dental needs, pass out toothbrushes and toothpaste, and support Turkish dentists and clinics.