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Shooting Deaths Of N.C. Muslim Students Sparks Social Media Outrage

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Three young Muslims were shot and killed in their apartment yesterday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks, a neighbor, turned himself in last night to police. This morning he was arraigned on three counts of first-degree murder. As WUNC's Reema Khrais reports, the incident has rattled the Muslim community in North Carolina and abroad.

REEMA KHRAIS, BYLINE: All lives matter, reads the sign on the small table with yellow, orange and purple flowers. It's next to a graduation photo of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha. They were young - 23, 21 and 19. The table is set up at the University of North Carolina's dental school. Barakat was a second- year dental student, and his wife, Yusor, was going to enroll there in the fall.

OMAR ABDEL-BAKY: I mean, saw them at their wedding. They just got married in December.

KHRAIS: Omar Abdel-Baky is a fellow dental student and Muslim.

ABDEL-BAKY: I know that she had just gotten into dental school, and that Deah was so excited that she got into UNC dental because that means they would be together - just so, so excited.

KHRAIS: Abdel-Baky says the murder of his three friends is difficult to comprehend - that it's senseless.

ABDEL-BAKY: Of course when, like, three Muslims, especially, like, two that wear scarves where they're just, like, clearly identified as Muslims are shot in their apartment it's - hate crime definitely comes to mind.

KHRAIS: The Chapel Hill police say that their preliminary investigation shows that the crime was motivated by an ongoing parking dispute. But they're still looking into whether it could have been a hate crime - U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand.

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RIPLEY RAND: We don't have any information this is part of an organized effort against Muslims. And I did want to address some comments made on social media about that and to make sure that people know that this appears, at this point, to have been an isolated incident.

KHRAIS: On social media there's been an outpouring of anger and mourning from Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. On Facebook, Craig Stephen Hicks had repeatedly posted comments in favor of atheism, and he criticized religion. The 46-year-old was charged this morning with three counts of first-degree murder. 21-year-old Muslim Nada Salem was best friends with the victims.

NADA SALEM: Like, all three? All three at once? And they're not even, like, bad people. Like, they're good people. Like, there's no reason you could have - like, why?

KHRAIS: She says she strongly believes that the crime was motivated by hate. She remembers a few months ago when she was over at the couple's house for dinner and Yusor texted her later to say that their neighbor Hicks came by and complained.

SALEM: Hey, your friends were being really loud and disrespectful.

KHRAIS: Salem remembers that her friend went on to say that he pointed at the gun in his pocket and said, I don't want this to happen again. For NPR News, I'm Reema Khrais in Chapel Hill, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.