WASHINGTON: Police have arrested a gunman in the killing of three Muslim students – including a husband and wife – in the university town of Chapel Hill in North Carolina, US news reports said Wednesday.
The shooter, identified as Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was being held in Durham County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder, the Chapel Hill News and Observer newspaper and other news outlets said.
The victims were identified as Chapel Hill residents Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
Hicks turned himself in after the shooting Tuesday in Chapel Hill, just outside the campus of the University of North Carolina.
Reports said Barakat was a second-year student in dentistry there while his wife was planning to begin her dental studies in the fall.
Razan Abu Salha was a student at North Carolina State University, according to the UNC university newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel.
A Facebook community – Our Three Winners – has been set up for posts about the three students.
“Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha have returned to their Lord,” the community’s creators state. “They have set an example in life and in death.”
The site features a photo of the three smiling at what appears to be graduation ceremony. The women wear Muslim headscarfs, one of them also in a blue graduation cap.
The Chapel Hill Police Department, meanwhile, released a statement saying they are questioning a person of interest in the crime; however, they are yet to reveal the suspect’s identity.
Mainstream media outlets, such as CNN, on the other hand, have not reported the shooting incident yet. However, social media was inundated with updates and condolences over the deaths of the three Arab students.
Chapel Hill a place where Muslim lives matter: Mayor
The mayor of the university town where the three students were murdered said in an officialstatement that they were investigating whether hate was a motivating factor in the attack.
“All we know for certain at this time is that it was a senseless and tragic act surrounding a longstanding dispute.”
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt offered his condolences to the family of the victims. “On behalf of the Chapel Hill community, I ask that you join with me in remembering the parents, family and friends of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in your thoughts and prayers.”
He said that there was some fear in the Muslim community of Chapel Hill following the attack but hoped that they could draw strength by acknowledging the fear and outrage that the act instilled, and that they could come together to ask difficult question. “I do recognise the fear that members of our community may feel.”
“Chapel Hill is a place for everyone, a place where Muslim lives matter.”
Victims’ school in shock
Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha used to volunteer at the North Carolina Missions of Mercy clinics, the dean of the dentistry school at UNC said in a statement.
Jane Weintraub added that Abu-Salha, who had married Deah last December, had gotten admission in the dentistry school and would have started school in spring. “We were all looking forward to getting to know her as a member of the UNC dental family beginning in April, and we grieve her loss as well.”
“This is an incredible tragedy for our school, the dental community and the University. Today, everyone here is grieving. Our deepest sympathy goes out to their families and friends.”
Deah, who was a business student before turning to dentistry was also quite popular at the school and was involved in research with the Department of Pediatric Dentistry. He was also the co-president of the new Dental Student Ambassadors group and was leading the charge for a dental mission trip to Turkey.
Razan, Deah’s sister-in-law, was a student at the North Carolina State University.