The murder of a family of three young muslims in their North Carolina home may have been a racially motivated attack, according to local police.
Dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead on Tuesday evening following an alleged dispute with a neighbour about parking.
Police arrested and charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, with three counts of first-degree murder and indicated an “ongoing dispute” between Hicks and his victims may have “motivated” the killings.
The father of Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu Salha told the Chapel Hill News and Observer his daughters lived in fear of their neighbour, and called their murders a “hate crime”.
“This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt,” Mohammad Abu-Salha said.
“They were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”
Mr Barakat was raising funds for a trip to Turkey to provide dental care to Syrian refugees when he was killed, while his wife was due to begin dental studies in the coming months.
The couple had been married for two months.
Mr Hicks described himself as an atheist on Facebook and, according to the New York Post, frequently posted about religion.
“I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being,” he wrote.
Karen Hicks defended her husband, telling the Chapel Hills News and Observer the incident had “nothing to do with the victim’s faith”.
“[It was] related to long-standing parking disputes my husband had with various neighbords regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Mrs Hicks said.
On Twitter, the hashtags #chapelhillshooting and #MuslimLivesMatter began trending, with an outpouring of grief over the death of the young students.
Chapel Hill Police chief Chris Blue said they were investigating whether the murders were racially motivated.
“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,” he said.
— Hassan Niazi (@HniaziISF) February 11, 2015