Many social media users sent messages of condolence.
Ayoub Oerderni, vice president of the UNC-Chapel Hill Muslim Student Association, said he hopes that once the official investigation is complete, students and the victims’ families will have the answers they are looking for. But for now, disbelief is the only thing they can rely on.
“We’re all very shaken,” Oerderni said. “Everybody is still in disbelief. These were three angels, literally angels. If this was in fact over parking and someone came in and shot three people in the head over parking, then, well, I am just at a loss of words.”
On Wednesday night, the Muslim Student Association and other campus groups hosted a candlelit vigil for the victims in the Pit. The Facebook invitation for the event was sent to more than 11,000 people.
At the conclusion of the program, Muslim Student Asssociation President Shamira Lukomwa encouraged students to like the “Our Three Winners” Facebook page, which is dedicated to the three victims. Lukomwa said the page would keep everyone up-to-date with upcoming memorial plans.
At press time, the page had about 90,000 likes after it was created Wednesday morning.
Pushing for punishment
But many users also used their social media platforms to call for authorities to label Tuesday night’s events a hate crime.
In response, officials called for the public to be patient with law enforcement.
“There will be others to determine to what extent hate was involved in this, but one thing I know for sure — it was not an act of love,” said Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke University.
Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim affairs and an adjunct faculty member in the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University, echoed Moneta’s sentiments.
“So this may or may not be a hate crime,” Antepli said. “There is knowledge that shows it could go either way, but I think for the safety of the investigation, we should refrain as a community or media to misinform anyone about an ongoing investigation.”
Antepli did say that the increasing tensions in American society in relation to its views on Muslims could have played a pivotal role in this tragedy.
“Having parents calling me, both Duke University parents and Chapel Hill parents, asking me if it’s safe for them to send their children to school,” Antepli said. “Rising anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments in American society have revealed one of its ugliest faces over this incident.”
But Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha’s father Mohammad Abu-Salha told The (Raleigh) News & Observer that he believes the crime was motivated by Hicks’ disdain for his family’s religion.
“It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha said in the interview. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime.”
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he hopes investigators do not write off the potential that the incident was in fact a hate crime — especially given some of Hicks’ posts on Facebook.
“With the anti-Islamic sentiments in the country right now, with him posting pictures of loaded guns on Facebook, the family tells us he had threatened them in the past, and the fact that two of the victims wore religious head scarves just shows there are too many factors that still need to be investigated before they can dismiss this interest.”
Hooper also said there many factors to consider as the investigation continues as to whether Hicks’ actions were motivated by hate.
“I find it very hard to believe that a parking dispute could result in the execution-style murder of three people,” Hooper said.
“And I hope the police do not simply dismiss this tragic event as a parking dispute.”