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Police investigating whether Tuesday’s triple homicide was a hate crime

The three were shot and killed on Tuesday afternoon at Finley Forest Condominiums in Chapel Hill.

Police responded to 272 Summerwalk Circle after two people called 911 just after 5 p.m. and reported hearing shots fired in the neighborhood.

All three were declared dead at the scene.

Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, who were married on Dec. 27, lived at the residence.

Barakat was a second-year dentistry student at UNC. Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha was planning to enroll at the school in the fall.

Her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, was a sophomore at N.C. State University studying environmental design and architecture.

Chapel Hill resident Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in to a Chatham County deputy sheriff Tuesday night, said Chatham County Chief Deputy Mike Roberson.

Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. At his arraignment at the Durham County Detention Facility on Wednesday morning, his next appearance in court was scheduled for March 4.

Though little is known about Hicks’ motives, Chapel Hill police have said their investigation suggests the killings might have been related to ongoing disputes about parking between the neighbors.

But some people believe the killing was about much more than parking.

Many people, including those who knew the victims, said they worry the three students were targeted because they were Muslim.

“We’re not scared to say that it could have been a hate crime,” said Asad Ahmad, a friend who played basketball with Barakat.

Maryam Ahmed, a longtime friend of the Abu-Salha sisters and a student at Meredith College, has a harder time categorizing what happened.

“The tragedy is so great that we’re not even thinking of words to label it,” she said.

“I think we would all encourage people to not have those feelings pushing toward hate but toward cooperation and understanding and love. That’s really what Deah and Yusor and Razan would have wanted.”

Neither Chapel Hill police nor Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols could say whether or not the evidence suggests the crime was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiments.

“I haven’t ruled out anything or ruled in anything,” Echols said. “It’s very preliminary. I don’t have all the facts.”

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Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that whatever Hicks’ true motivation was, the killing will never make sense.

“What happened was an irrational, unreasonable response to a conflict,” he said. “It’s nothing that you or I or any other Chapel Hillian I know would do in response to a conflict. I think that’s why we’re struggling right now.”

While many members of the community are outraged, others are calling for peace.

Farris Barakat, Deah Shaddy Barakat’s older brother who spoke at the vigil, asked attendees to refrain from responding to violence with more violence.

“Do not fight fire with fire,” he said. “Do not reply to ignorance with ignorance.”

He said the victims would have wanted community members to carry on the values by which they lived their lives.

“They technically aren’t angels, but they sure acted like it sometimes,” he said.

“I plead that you live in their legacy.”

News of the students’ death was met with shock by those in the UNC and Chapel Hill community.

“It was the saddest, most heartbreaking and incomprehensible day,” said UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.

“Such an act of violence goes against the very fiber of our community and society.”

Folt addressed concerns that the crime was motivated by student’s religious affiliation.

“It also creates a sense of vulnerability for all of us, especially members of the Muslim community,” she said.

“I am in touch with the Muslim community and students and will continue to be in conversation with them. While the Chapel Hill police continue to gather facts, Carolina has and will remain focused on supporting all members of our community.”

Omar Alsaidi, who knew the victims, said he would caution against drawing conclusions before the investigation is complete.

“I think this is a great show of solidarity, but I think it’s unfortunate that people tried to drive it toward a religious issue before the facts are out,” he said.

Kleinschmidt said the community should rally around Muslims and other groups that feel threatened.

“When any community like this one that represents a minority group in a community, it becomes marginalizing, it creates a sense of fear,” he said. “The rest of us need to respond to that with compassion. We need to step up and do our part now. We’re going to need to be leaning on each other.”

Karen Hicks, Craig Hicks’ wife, held a press conference Wednesday afternoon with lawyers she retained from Maitland Law Firm in Chapel Hill.

Robert Maitland, who is representing Karen Hicks, emphasized the shooting was the result of Craig Hicks’ longtime frustration with parking at the apartment complex.

“In my personal opinion, this highlights the importance of access to mental health services,” Maitland said at the press conference. “This isn’t normal or within the range of normal behavior for someone to shoot three people over parking.”

Maitland said Karen Hicks has not been in communication with her husband, except for one text message she received from him shortly after the shooting.

Maitland said Craig Hicks had a long-standing issue with the Finley Forest neighborhood’s parking regulations, which Craig Hicks attempted to address with the homeowner association.

“It’s our belief that this had nothing to do with any kind of particular relationship with those victims,” he said. “Mr. Hicks had a problem with many of those neighbors. It had nothing to do with these particular neighbors.”

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