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3 students shot to death in apartment near UNC Chapel Hill

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(CNN) — A 46-year-old man has been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of three students in an apartment near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

Police said “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking” may have been a factor in the shootings Tuesday evening. The three victims were all shot in the head, sources told CNN affiliate WRAL.

The suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in to police later in the night and is being held in the Durham County Jail without bond. He was cooperating with investigators, police said Wednesday morning.

“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,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.

But given the victims’ religion — they were Muslims — and comments the alleged shooter apparently left on a Facebook page, many social media users wondered what role, if any, the victims’ faith played.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for police to “address speculation about a possible bias motive” and the Muslim Public Affairs Council is requesting a federal probe “if the motives of the shooter are confirmed based on his previous social media posts.”

The victims were Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

Barakat was Mohammad’s husband; Abu-Salha was her sister, the school said.

Barakat was a second-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry, who was raising money on a fundraising site to provide dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey.

He had been married for just over a month to Yusor Mohammad, who was planning to begin her dental studies at UNC in the fall, according to the school.

Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The condominium is home to many university students. Tuesday night, friends and family members gathered, crying or comforting each other, as they waited for word from officers.

“It’s been hours. Just tell me if he’s alive,” one man cried out.

An officer tried to calm him down. “Give us more time,” he said.

Student Kristen Boling told CNN affiliate WNCN she was at home studying and didn’t hear anything.

“It’s kind of just turned the neighborhood upside down,” she said.

The hashtag #chapelhillshooting and #MuslimLivesMatter quickly shot to the top of Twitter’s trending topic early Wednesday morning, with many posting what they said were photos of the victims.

Hicks is being held on three counts of first-degree murder.

In one post widely shared online, Hicks, who claimed he is an atheist, allegedly wrote: “When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I.”

CNN couldn’t independently confirm the authenticity of the post or his Facebook page.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt is expected to issue a statement sometime Wednesday.

“We are sensitive to the impact an incident of this nature has on campus and in the community,” the school said. “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.”

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Rick Martin and Melodi Smith contributed to this report.

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9 comments

  • DuhNigreus

    This guy might have simply been a red-blooded American doing his patriotic duty to protect his kinfolk from the brutal tyranny of Sharia Law that Muslims want to impose on our country.

    • yow

      That is exactly the ideology of islam. It isn’t even a religion, it is a culture and an ideology. You may laugh now, but future generations here will suffer for your ignorance as the hoards multiply. They are more than willing to take their time. I suppose to you, an Islamic society is just as good as the original USA or other Western societies. Fool.

  • yow

    Freedom of speech! The man had the right to express his views about the muslims or anyone else without that being used as supposed “proof” of any motive. You fools are letting all these third world turds destroy the constitution of this country.

  • Jax

    Would be interesting to know the entire story….maybe they were ISIS wannabes in training, in which case this would be justified. We are at war with ISIS. The politically correct media will bend over backwards to make it sound like these people of color were so completely innocent.