CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Christian Examiner) -- Three Muslim students were shot and killed while in an apartment near their University of North Carolina campus Tuesday evening by 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, a staunch atheist. Hicks was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, and because of his strong anti-religion feelings, some are wondering if the students' deaths should be classified as a hate crime.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were found dead by police at 5:11 p.m. after reports of gunshots in the area, according to Fox News. All three were killed execution-style with bullets to the head.
Hicks, who turned himself in to police later that night, was a supporter of "Atheists for Equality" on his Facebook page and was a fan of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." A recent post asked "why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others' influence when they agree about so many issues."
"When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not mine," he said in a separate online post. "If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I."
But police have been cautious about stating a motive for the murders.
Hicks is being held in Durham County Jail without bond.
Barakat and Mohammad were newlyweds married on Dec. 27. Barakat was in his second year of dentistry school at UNC, while Mohammad was scheduled to begin classes in the fall. Her sister, Abu-Salha, attended North Carolina State University for architecture and environmental design, the Raleigh News-Observer reported.
After news of the grisly killings broke, friends and members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community provided pictures of the three students online. The phrase #MuslimLivesMatter began trending as supporters encouraged people to remember them as they lived, not just as victims.
"Remember them like this. Deah and Yusor had names, dreams and families," one person wrote.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt should be issuing a statement Wednesday.
"We are sensitive to the impact an incident of this nature has on campus and in the community," the school said. "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."