The Killing of Three Young Muslims in Chapel Hill

Tuesday afternoon, Craig Stephen Hicks shot his neighbors in the small North Carolina town for reasons that are not entirely clear.  

Tony Webster/Flickr

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a sleepy college town, any murder is a shock. But a triple murder Tuesday afternoon has become a national story.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, turned himself into police after shooting Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, a married couple; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 and Mohammad's sister, at an apartment complex. All three victims were shot in the head, according to WRAL.

In a statement, the Chapel Hill Police Department said: "Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking. Hicks is cooperating with investigators and more information may be released at a later time." He has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Sadly, many disagreements in the United States turn lethal when guns are involved. Out of nearly 13,000 homicides in 2013, the most recent year's FBI statistics available, nearly 9,000 were committed with firearms. The proportion has remained roughly equal in recent years.

But one reason this killing, one of many in a disturbing increase in mass shootings, has garnered so much attention is religion: All three victims are Muslims. American Muslims reacted with horror to the deaths, especially after the media found a Facebook page that appears to belong to the shooter and includes statuses saying atheism could solve strife in the Middle East, and suggesting general similarities between radical Christians and radical Muslims. Since the shootings, the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, an echo of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, has been trending on Twitter.

"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," Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement. Mohammad's father told the Raleigh News & Observer the killing was a hate crime.

Barakat was a dentistry student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to the school, and his wife planned to enroll in the fall. Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University in nearby Raleigh. The shooting was at a housing development that is reportedly home to many UNC students.