US gunman kills three Muslim students; victims’ father calls it a ‘hate crime’
New York, Feb 12: In an apparent act of hate crime, a gunman who had posted anti-religious messages on Facebook killed three American Muslim students including a married couple in an apartment near the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill campus in the United States.
The victims are Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
The police arrested the shooter, identified as Craig Stephen Hicks. The 46-year-old accused, who is being held in the Durham County Jail, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
The victims were newlyweds Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, a University of North Carolina dental student, and his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All were involved in humanitarian aid programs.
Students at UNC, where Yusor Mohammad was going to join her husband as a student later this year, were gathering on Wednesday for an evening vigil and prayer service.
The terrorist, in handcuffs and orange jail garb, appeared briefly on Wednesday before a Durham County judge who ordered him held without bail pending a March 4 probable cause hearing.
The killings occurred in a condominium complex in a wooded area filled with two-story buildings. Neighbors said parking spaces were often a point of contention.
“I have seen and heard (Hicks) be very unfriendly to a lot of people in this community,” said Samantha Maness, 25, a community college student. But she said she had never seen him show animosity along religious lines.
On Facebook, Hicks’ profile picture reads “Atheists for Equality” and he frequently posted quotes critical of religion. On Jan. 20 he posted a photo of a .38-caliber revolver that he said was loaded and belonged to him.
Hicks’s wife Karen Hicks told reporters at a news conference that her husband had been locked in a longstanding dispute over parking and the killings had nothing to do with religion. She said Hicks was not hateful and believed “everyone is equal.”
Barakat’s family urged the shooting be investigated as a hate crime and said the three were killed with shots to the head.
“Today, we are crying tears of unimaginable pain over the execution-style murders,” Barakat’s older sister Suzanne told reporters. She said her brother was light-hearted and loved basketball.
The incident appeared to be isolated and not part of a targeted campaign against North Carolina Muslims, Ripley Rand, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, told a news conference with local police officials.
Imam Abdullah Antepli, Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University, told the news conference it may or may not have been a hate crime and called for an easing of tensions.
Relatives of three victims have rejected police statements suggesting that the trio were murdered over a parking dispute.
The father of the two sisters killed on Tuesday insisted that the shooting was a “hate crime,” saying Hicks had previously behaved threateningly towards his daughters and son-in-law.
“This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime,” Dr Mohammad Abu-Salha told reporters on Wednesday.
“[The shooting] was execution-style – a bullet in every head. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt”. “They were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far”.
Abu-Salha’s daughter Yusor married Deah Shaddy Barakat, a dentistry student known for raising money for victims of Syria’s civil war, just over a month ago, and the pair lived near Barakat’s university with Yusor’s sister Razan.
The sisters’ father said on Wednesday that his daughter Yusor had complained about the family’s “hateful neighbour,” in reference to Hicks. “Honest to God, [Yusor] said: He hates us for who we are and how we look,” Abu-Salha said.
Panicked passers-by who rang the emergency services described hearing “kids screaming” followed by between five and 10 gunshots, according to a call recording released by authorities on Wednesday.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha
The couple were fundraising for Syrian refugees when they were targeted by the gunman
The Muslim victims were recently seen providing free dental and food supplies to the poor and homeless
The killer Craig Stephen Hicks