Gunman kills three young Muslims in North Carolina, hate crime questions raised

A man has been arrested and charged with fatally shooting three young people near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill raising questions of whether the victims were targeted because they were Muslim.

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 11, 2015) (NBC) – A gunman who had posted anti-religious messages on Facebook was charged with killing three young Muslims in what police said on Wednesday (February 11) was a dispute over parking and possibly a hate crime.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill, was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shootings around 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Tuesday near the University of North Carolina campus.

The victims are newlyweds Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, a University of North Carolina dental student, and his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All were involved in humanitarian aid programs.

The father of the young women, Mohammad Abu-Salha, a local psychiatrist, said his family was feeling a range of emotions.

“We are sad, we are distraught, we are shocked we are angry, we feel we are treated unjustly, this is uncalled for,” Salha said during an interview. He believes his daughters and son-in-law were targeted because they were Muslim.

“This was execution style, this was a hate crime from a neighbor our children spoke about, they were uncomfortable with. He came to their apartment more than once condescending, threatening and dispising and talking down to them,” Abu-Salha added.

U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand said during a news conference on Wednesday there was no evidence that the triple murders were a hate crime.

“Based on all the information that our office and that law enforcement has at this time that the events of yesterday are not part of a targeted campaign against Muslims in North Carolina or anything other than an individual event that occurred. We don’t have any information that this is part of an organized effort against Muslims,” Rand said.

The suspect, in handcuffs and orange jail garb, appeared briefly early on Wednesday before Durham County Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey who ordered him held without bond pending a probable cause hearing set for March 4.

Police said a preliminary investigation indicated the motive was an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking. They said Hicks turned himself in and was cooperating with police.

On Facebook, Hicks’ profile picture reads “Atheists for Equality” and he frequently posted quotes critical of religion. On Jan. 20 he posted a photo of a .38-caliber revolver that he said was loaded and belonged to him.

“Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster, and five extra rounds in a speedloader,” the post said.

Muslim activists demanded that authorities investigate a possible motive of religious hatred for the killings.

Ibrahim Hooper from The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said recent hate rhetoric was a growing concern.

“Whatever the motive is, and if there is a hate motive it’s even a greater concern and should be of concern to the entire society because of this tremendous rise in the level of anti-Muslim hate rhetoric in our society.”

The shooting sparked the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter on social media, with posters questioning what role the victims’ faith may have played in the incident.

Groups including the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR, and the local Raleigh-based Muslims for Social Justice called for a federal investigation into possible hate crimes, citing Hicks’ social media posts and the brutality of the crime.