On Tuesday afternoon, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, shot dead Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
Suzanne Barakat, the sister of Deah, on Wednesday demanded that authorities “investigate these senseless and heinous murders as a hate crime,” adding that they were “execution-style murders.”
Police say initial probes suggest the deadly attack stemmed from a dispute over parking space, but have not ruled out the possibility that hatred of Muslims had motivated the shooter.
However, the father of two female students shot dead sharply disagrees with the police wording and has demanded that investigators treat the killing as a "hate crime."
"This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime," said Mohammad Abu-Salha. "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."
The fatal shootings have caused outrage among Muslims all over the world. Many claim the crimes would have gained more attention if the attacker had been a Muslim and the victims were non-Muslim whites.
"Based on the brutal nature of this crime... 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," Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement.
On Wednesday, about 4,000 people gathered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to mourn the deaths of the students.
The Islamic Association of Raleigh, which is handling funeral arrangements, said in a statement that it mourns its "three bright stars."
More vigils are planned in Washington, DC, New Jersey, California, Texas, Michigan, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina.
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