A 46-year-old man has been arrested for the fatal shooting of three Muslim students which took place on a university campus in North Carolina.
Craig Stephen Hicks, who turned himself in to the police, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after he confessed to shooting the three students on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus on Tuesday evening. He is currently being held at Durham County Jail.
The students have been named as Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; her husband, Deah Barakat, 23; and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Barakat was in the second year of his dental studies at the University of North Carolina; his wife was planning to join him, also to study dentistry at the same university, in the autumn. Razan, her sister, was studying at North Carolina State University.
Police responded quickly to reports of gunshots on the campus at 17:11; all three victims were pronounced dead at the scene. While the students’ families and friends arrived quickly at the scene, pleading for information about the shooting, the officers present were unable to confirm their identities for a number of hours.
North Carolina authorities stated on Wednesday that they believe the murder stemmed from an ongoing dispute between Craig Hicks and the students, who were neighbours, over parking.
“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” said Chief of the Chapel Hill police department Chris Blue.
“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. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly.”
The University of North Carolina issued a public statement, saying: “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.”
Social media has been flooded by the public’s response to the shooting, using hashtags such as #chapelhillshooting and #MuslimLivesMatter to post pictures of the victims of what is being described as the “execution-style murder”.
Local news sources have reported that Hicks appeared in court yesterday morning, uttering only to confirm a small number of details and his understanding of the charges against him. District judge Maria Morey has scheduled the next hearing to take place on 4th March, until which time Hicks will be held without bond.
A spokesperson for the Durham county district attorney’s office stated that, as investigations are still ongoing, no decisions have been made regarding whether or not Hicks will face the death penalty.
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