The shooting of three Muslim students in a suburban neighbourhood of North Carolina has been attributed to a parking dispute, police say.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 were found dead in their home on Tuesday evening. Unconfirmed reports say they were killed "execution-style".
Craig Stephen Hicks, who is rumoured to be an atheist, was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
On Wednesday the results of a preliminary investigation indicated the motive behind the shooting was an long-running neighbor dispute over parking, Chapel Hill police said. The force added Hicks was cooperating with the authorities.
In the statement from Chapel Hill police, Chief Chris Blue said, "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."
As rumours swirled of an anti-religion or anti-Muslim motive for the killings, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins publicly condemned the murders.
How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?February 11, 2015
A Facebook page speculated to belong to Hicks and emblazoned with the slogans: “Atheists for equality” and “anti-theism” circulated, as did a post dating to 2012 in which Dawkins is quoted saying: “My respect for the Abrahamic religions went up in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th...”
Speculation of the motives of the crime were addressed directly by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which urged police to move swiftly.
CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said: "Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case."
Hicks appeared in court on Wednesday morning. He will be held without bond until 4 March.
Barakat was a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina, and Yusor was scheduled to begin dental studies in the autumn. Both had graduated from North Carolina State University, school spokesman Mick Kulikowski said.
Barakat graduated with a business administration degree in the spring of 2013. Mohammad graduated in December with a biological sciences degree. Abu-Salha was a sophomore design major who had started classes last fall.
There had also been criticism of what was labelled "Islamophobic" media coverage of the tragedy. Many complained the attack was not given due attention, with the hashtags #ChapelHillShooting and #MuslimLivesMatter duly trending.
If it were a Muslim who shot 3 innocent christians it'll be on CNN within minutes but I guess society only works one way #MuslimLivesMatter— Meech Uchiha (@KINGMEECH35) February 11, 2015
Mainstream media is not reporting it. Let's ask about this. Let's talk about it. Don't let them sweep it under the rug. #MuslimLivesMatter— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo) February 11, 2015
If we let this slide, today it may be those poor souls, and tomorrow it may be me, you, my parents, yours.. #MuslimLivesMatter— Dead. (@Alladin_Al) February 11, 2015
Many highlighted the subjects the media were covering in favour of the incident.
Muslims expressed strong feelings of alienation and victimisation.
Shows u clear media reporting bias
If Muslim doing a crime report it front page
If victim - no mentFebruary 11, 2015