Three people, including students at University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, were shot and killed near UNC's Chapel Hill campus Tuesday. The university sent out a number of safety alerts throughout the evening, though police and UNC offered little detail into the nature of the shootings. "We are sensitive to the impact an incident of this nature has on campus and in the community," the university stated. "We understand you want to know the facts as quickly as possible. At the same time, we must respect the job our Chapel Hill police have as they investigate this crime."
Police released the names of the victims early Wednesday, and charged 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks with first degree murder. The victims were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, a UNC dentistry student; Yusor Mohammad, Barakat's wife and a prospective UNC student; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, a student at NC State. All three victims are believed to have been Muslim, fueling speculation that the students may have been targeted for their religion and prompting a number of Twitter users, frustrated at what they believe to be a lack of media coverage, to begin tweeting out the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. Hicks identifies as an atheist, and is vocally anti-religion.
In a statement Wednesday, police said they believe "the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," but that they are investigating whether religion played a role in the killing. “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," Chris Blue, chief of the Chapel Hill Police Department, said. "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly."
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