A Muslim civil rights group is calling on police to investigate whether three people shot and killed in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday were targeted because they follow Islam.
Two women and one man were shot to death Tuesday. Police arrested and charged 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks with three counts of first-degree murder.
Chapel Hill police in a statement said a "preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking."
"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," Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said. "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly."
The killings have prompted speculation on Twitter and other social media platforms the three people could have been targeted because of their religion. The hashtag #muslimlivesmatter has been posted in messages on Twitter and other social media about the incident.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said police should focus on whether that was the motive, given what they said were postings Hicks made on Facebook condemning religions.
The New York Daily News reported that Hicks is a vehement atheist who frequently posts “anti-religion musings.”
“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 CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. "Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community.”
The three people killed were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Mohammad Barakat, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. The Charlotte News & Observer reports that Barkat was pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry, while Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University.
Police were alerted to the shootings, which took place at a condominium that is home to many University of North Carolina graduate students, after 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who became the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2006 election, tweeted his condolences to those "senselessly murdered in Chapel Hill."
My thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those senselessly murdered in Chapel Hill last night #MuslimLivesMatter— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) February 11, 2015
Another Muslim Democrat, Rep. André Carson (Ind.), also weighed in.
— This story was last updated at 10:58 a.m.