By Emily Bruzzo, News Editor
It’s been a rough week for Chapel Hill, N.C.
The fatal shootings last Tuesday of three Muslim students— Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19— have incited a wave of outrage and mourning from the global Muslim community.
The suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was indicted by a Durham County grand jury Monday on three counts of first-degree murder as well as one count of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling.
Hicks’ court date is scheduled for March 4.
Deemed a hate crime by some, police say the current suspected motive is a continuous dispute over parking spaces.
Hicks, the trio’s neighbor, had allegedly complained about the parking situation at the Finley Forest Condominiums in Chapel Hill, falling into conflict with the victims several times over the issue.
Hicks’ wife went on the record last Wednesday and told the media that Hicks was far from a religious bigot and that his actions weren’t religiously based.
However, many still aren’t buying the claim that the murders were over a parking space.
Those who argue Hicks was an Islamophobe and the shootings were religiously motivated cite his well-documented antitheism on Facebook. Hicks’ personal page is filled with critiques of institutionalized religion and his lambasting of Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.
Hicks’ Facebook also suggests he is a fervent supporter of the Second Amendment and is a firearm enthusiast.
The Associated Press reported that search warrants indicated Hicks owned thirteen firearms, including: four handguns, two shotguns, six rifles and a sizeable stock of ammunition.
Associated Press reports say that Hicks has a concealed weapons permit and he had a pistol on his person when he turned himself into the authorities hours after the shootings occurred.
Due to public ire and the circumstantial evidence that some say suggests Hicks’ antitheist sentiments impelled his behavior, the FBI has launched a parallel investigation to examine possible motives and also aid Chapel Hill authorities.
Muslim-Americans and the global Islamic community as a whole has spoken out against, what they argue has been, the lacking response from President Obama and the U.S. government.
Obama, in response to the increasing pressure, released a statement to media outlets, saying, “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like or how they worship.”
But a statement wasn’t enough for some.
The Washington Post reported that Palestinian officials have asked to join the American investigation, arguing such a request was appropriate because the trio was of Palestinian descent.
Yusor and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha had dual citizenship with both Jordan and the United States, prompting Jordanian officials to promise that they would vigilantly follow the ongoing American investigation.
Jordan’s ambassador to the U.S., Alia Bouran, traveled to Chapel Hill to meet with the victims’ families and offer condolences from Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Vigils have been held around the world and Muslims have released outpourings of support via social media platforms.
UNC-Greensboro’s community joined the cause as well last Wednesday with a vigil hosted by the university’s Muslim Student Association in collaboration with Dr. Omar Ali from UNCG’s African American and African Diaspora Studies program.
The vigil lasted for several hours and was attended by roughly 300 people.
Community members who personally knew the victims spoke about their commitment to community service and their outstanding civic engagement.
Barakat, a second-year student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry had been working with the Syrian-American Medical Society to raise money for a relief trip to Rihaniya, Turkey. Barakat planned to volunteer at one of the organization’s clinics where he hoped to help Syrian refugee children.
Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha was planning to start her first year at UNC’s School of Dentistry and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was studying architecture and environmental design at N.C. State University.
Many student Muslims expressed their fear at the vigil, saying that it easily could have been them.
One speaker after another shared their personal experiences with Islamophobia, saying that these post 9/11 years have been difficult for Muslim-Americans.
One graduate said, “American’s very fearful of what it doesn’t know…or of differences.”
One Muslim student said about the Islamic community in the United States, “We just want a nice communication with people, nothing else.”
Amidst the anxieties over discrimination, one Muslim student vising from UNC-Chapel Hill asserted, “For anyone who is a Muslim-American or an Arab-American, don’t loose your identity. Don’t be scared to tell people who you are.”
In attempt to open dialogues and to silence any fears UNCG Muslim students had about telling people who they are, the Chancellor Advisory Committee for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Division of Student Affairs and Ali partnered together to host a forum in the School of Education auditorium last Thursday.