WASHINGTON: Police probing the murder of three Muslim students by a North Carolina man said Wednesday they were studying whether the slayings were racially motivated, as thousands gathered to mourn the killings and denounce intolerance.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after Tuesday’s shootings in the university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide.
Police emphasized that initial investigations indicated a dispute between Hicks and his victims over parking spaces may have been the catalyst for a shooting spree which claimed the lives of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” Chapel Hill police said in a statement, adding that Hicks was cooperating with investigators.
“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act.
“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,” Police Chief Chris Blue said.
Meanwhile, thousand gathered in Chapel Hill to mourn the killings, with Barakat’s brother urging calm in the shaken university town.
“Do not fight fire with fire it is quite possible that this was an act based off of evil and a scared ignorant man.
Do not let ignorance propagate in your life, do not reply ignorance with ignorance,” Farris Barakat said at the candlelight vigil.
He remembered his brother’s passion for sports, community work and the odd Chris Rock joke and said all three had an impact.
“We lost three great citizens of this world and of this country. But I think they’ve inspired thousands.”