Deah Barakat, a second-year dental student at UNC-Chapel Hill, had scheduled a trip to Turkey this summer to provide dental care to Syrian refugees there. Those dreams were cut short yesterday when the 23-year-old, his 21-year-old wife, and her 19-year-old sister were shot dead in an apartment complex near the college, NBC News reports. Craig Stephen Hicks, the suspected 46-year-old gunman, is being held in Durham County Jail on three charges of first-degree murder, police say. Police received a report of gunfire shortly after 5pm yesterday in the Chapel Hill neighborhood of Finley Forest; all three victims died at the scene. In a statement today, CHPD reports "our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking."
The Charlotte Observer notes that all three victims were Muslim, and speculation is rife on social media that it could have been a hate crime. The Independent notes a Facebook page in Hicks' name that shows him to be an apparent supporter for "Atheists for Equality" and a frequent poster of images that mock religion. What CHPD has to say: "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." Barakat's wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, was scheduled to start dental studies at UNC in the fall; the two worked together to lobby for global public health and had just married on Dec. 27 (wedding photo here). Sister-in-law Razan was studying architecture at North Carolina State University. An "Our Three Winners" Facebook page dedicated to the family is up, with a poignant "About" section that says, "Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha have returned to their Lord. They have set an example in life and in death." (Read more Muslims stories.)