Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with the murder of three Muslim students in their apartment near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's main campus. Hicks turned himself in after committing the crime on Tuesday evening. The victims were Yusor Mohammad, 21, her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Mohammad's sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.
According to CNN, Barakat was a second year student at the UNC School of Dentistry who was raising money to provide dental care for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Mohammad was also to begin her studies at the same school that fall, while Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Local television station WRAL reports that a parking dispute may have been the cause of the murder, although atheist statements made on Hicks' social media accounts have led some to wonder whether the crime was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.
"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 of The Council on American-Islamic Relations in a statement. "Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community."
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue made the following 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."