Police say the man who was arrested on suspicion of killing three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina campus on Feb. 10 evening did so because of a long-running parking dispute.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged with three counts of first degree murder after he reportedly shot and killed Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, at a quiet condominium complex near the UNC campus.
Authorities investigating the matter have been trying to determine the motive behind the crime. Police said Hicks has been cooperating and that an "ongoing neighbor dispute over parking" may have played a role, reports CNN. The police did not comment any further on the motive or details.
Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations believe religious bias was involved.
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Some believe Hicks, who describes himself as an atheist and has shared anti-religion material on Facebook, may have targeted the three because of their religion.
“Based on the brutal nature of this crime … 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,” Nihad Awad, member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue addressed the possibility of a bias in an email: “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.”
Durham District Attorney Roger Echols declined to discuss the motive and said the facts of the case were still under investigation.
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Director of Muslim Affairs at Duke University, Abdullah Antepli, asked in a statement that people not jump to any conclusions over the motives for the killings.
Barakat and Mohammad were recently married and Abu-Salha was Mohammad’s sister. Barakat was a second-year dental student and his wife was scheduled to begin dental studies in the fall. Abu-Salha was a sophomore design major and had started classes last fall, according to school spokesman Mick Kulikowski.
Hicks, who appeared in court on Feb. 11, only spoke to answer that he understood the charges and to confirm an indigency affidavit. He is scheduled to appear again on March 4 for a probable cause hearing. Hicks has been appointed a public defender and being held without bail.