President Barack Obama on Friday called the fatal shootings of three young people in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home this week "brutal and outrageous" — and asked Americans to remember their promising lives. Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder also expressed his condolences to the victims’ families, saying he was “shocked and saddened,” and calling the murders “heinous.”
Chapel Hill police said the victims — Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19 — were murdered by a neighbor over a parking dispute. Family members believe they were targeted because they were Muslim.
A preliminary investigation has pointed to a parking dispute as the motivation, but police said they are investigating if there were any other motives. “We're looking at all possible motives, including whether it was motivated by bias or hate for a particular group," Chapel Hill Police Department spokesman Lt. Joshua Mecimore, told NBC News. The investigation is in its early stages, he said.
The FBI said Thursday it is opening an inquiry into their deaths, and Holder said Friday that the “full resources” of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division would be made available “to help ensure that justice will be served in this case.”
There was no immediate evidence that suspect Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, targeted the victims because of their religion, and experts on North Carolina law told NBC News that adding the hate element would only slightly increase the charge from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.
In his statement Friday, Obama said the FBI will determine whether any federal laws were violated:
No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims' loved ones. As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family. Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives — and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours."Growing up in America has been such a blessing," Yusor said recently. "It doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions — but here, we're all one."
— Erik Ortiz, Phil Helsel, Pete Williams and Elisha Fieldstadt