When three Muslim college students were shot and killed Tuesday night in North Carolina, many media outlets immediately jumped to the conclusion that it must have been hate-related. But it turns out that the man who shot them allegedly did so over an ongoing parking space dispute.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder when he turned himself in to Chapel Hill police overnight. Hicks is currently being held in the Durham County Jail without bond.
The dispute that led to the shootings had apparently been going on for some time, and it involved a parking space at the condominium complex where the students and Hicks lived. Initial reports came in that the shooting was a hate crime, based solely on the fact that the three victims were Muslim. The Council on American-Islamic Relations pressured police to "address speculation about a possible bias motive" and the Muslim Public Affairs Council is calling for a federal investigation if it turns out that the shooter's motive was based on hate for the Islamic religion.
Probes into the shooter's social media accounts found that he had expressed hatred for both Christians and Muslims in the past, and is a supporter of the Atheists for Equality group.
The three victims in the shooting were Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha (also named as Yusor Mohammad in some reports), 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha.
The reaction to the murders on Twitter and other prominent social media platforms has been overwhelmingly supportive for the victims, including the rise of such hashtag keywords as #MuslimLivesMatter. Many Muslim supporters are claiming that there are "no media around" and that no one is covering the story out of religious bias, despite the fact that the story is currently on the front page of CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC News, and most every other major media outlet.
International news outlet Aljazeera is going so far as to say that the Western media suffers from bigotry for even mentioning that the victims were Muslim. "When Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims are killed by Muslims, Islam is identified as playing a direct role," the article states. "When Muslims are killed by Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims, however, the religious identity of the violent perpetrators is downplayed or ignored."
The Christian reaction has been supportive and sympathetic to the victims, as Carol Folt, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill's chancellor, added her condolences. "Such an act of violence goes against the very fiber of our community and society. It also creates a sense of vulnerability for all of us, especially members of the Muslim community. I am in touch with the Muslim community and students and will continue to be in conversation with them. While the Chapel Hill police continue to gather facts, Carolina has and will remain focused on supporting all members of our community."
North Carolina State University chancellor Randy Woodson was equally saddened by the loss of the students. "On behalf of the entire NC State community, I'd like to extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Abu-Salha."
Rev. Franklin Graham commented on the shooting, saying, "I was saddened to hear of the senseless killings of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, NC, yesterday. Reportedly the shooter had an ongoing argument with them about parking. How tragic that such a minor disagreement could claim the lives of innocent people. Pray especially for their families and all those grieving."
Many of Rev. Graham's Facebook followers responded on his post with equal support and an outpouring of love for the victims and their families. "Our culture has become angry," one commenter wrote. "I think it's because of the breakdown of the family. We've got generations now of children that haven't had what they need emotionally, spiritually, and relationally in their families. As a result they don't feel loved and cared for and are angry and don't care. They need the Lord and God's family to minister the healing and love they did not receive growing up."