Three students from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were shot dead Tuesday evening by 46-year-old neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks.
Newlywed couple Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad, 19, were the three victims involved in the shooting.
Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and he appeared in court Wednesday morning.
According to the New York Times, local police and university officials said the incident occurred around 5 p.m. Tuesday when five to 10 shots had been fired at a quiet condominium complex near the university. The victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
Officials said parking disputes among neighbors possibly motivated Hicks to kill the three students. However, Al Jazeera reported that many family members think the shootings are seen as a “hate crime” and a civil rights group has called for an investigation.
“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, according to Al Jazeera.
In a recent New York Times video featuring Hicks’ wife, Karen, she talked about how her husband was an advocate for individuals’ rights on his active Facebook page.
On the page, he also indicated support for groups such as Freedom from Religion Foundation and Atheists for Equality.
As of now, it is unclear what Hicks’ motive was.
Director of Muslim Affairs at Duke University Abdullah Antepli issued a statement that said for people not to jump to conclusions over Hicks’ motive, according to Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera America’s The Stream writer Wajahat Ali knew the family of one of the victims and described them as Muslim-American success stories. He said the students were three bright young stars not only in the Muslim community, but also in America.
According to Barakat’s Facebook page, he used his dental skills for charitable work and he planned to travel to Turkey this summer and provide dental care to refugees in Syria.