Near the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill three students were shot and killed Tuesday night. “I heard about eight shots go off in an apartment” says a woman who called 911 at around five o’clock in the evening. Thousands of posts on social media platforms suggest that many people believe that this was a racially motivated crime.
The victims were Deah Barakat who was 23, his newlywed wife 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad, and Mohammad’s younger sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who was only 19. Barakat was a second year student studying dentistry at UNC. He was planning to travel to Turkey in the summer to help Syrian refugees who are in need of dental care. Mohammad was also planning to attend dental school starting in the fall. Abu-Salha was a student at NC State in Raleigh. She created art that was intended to spread positive messages surrounding Muslim-Americans. All three victims were involved in programs that are meant to provide humanitarian aid.
Preliminary police investigations conclude that the dispute was over a parking space in a condominium complex near Chapel Hill. However, the police in the area are investigating whether or not the UNC students’ deaths were due to their Muslim faith. The father of the two female victims claims that the suspect had harassed his daughters before while carrying a visible gun in his belt.
A spokeswoman for a victims’ family asserts that the suspect had threatened the three students in the past and urges that the incident was a hate crime. She asks police to investigate it as such.
Nonetheless, the suspect’s wife made a statement saying that “this incident had nothing to do with religion or victims faith.” A lawyer representing the wife, Karen Hicks said that the suspect had a permit that allowed him to carry a concealed weapon.
Craig Stephen Hicks, who is 46 years old, turned himself in to Chatham County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday night. He is being held without bond and has been charged by Chapel Hill police with three counts of first degree murder. According to sources, the UNC students that were killed near Chapel Hill were all shot in the head.
Hicks claims to be an atheist. He allegedly wrote anti-religious statements on his Facebook wall, saying, “when it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me.” This statement, however, is still unconfirmed. Since investigation are still ongoing, police have yet to release a motive for the shootings. On Wednesday, Ripley Rand, a U.S. Attorney said that the killings are being called an isolated incident. They are not connected to a campaign against Muslims.
People in the area where the students were killed claim that their neighborhood is usually a very quiet community. Bethany Boring, who is a neighbor says that mostly professionals and graduate students live near her. People in the online community are showing frustration as well as sorrow about what happened to these three students. Sadness has also been expressed at the fact that the incident may have been religiously motivated.
This incident involving the three UNC students who were shot near Chapel Hill has caused the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter to spread across Twitter. Vigils are being planned for the victims in many states including North Carolina, Virginia, and New York.
By Emilee Prado
Photo by Ken – Flickr License