The Federal Bureau of Investigation is launching a "preliminary inquiry" into the killings of three people near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tuesday — slayings that authorities say were carried out by a neighbor upset over parking.
But the families of Deah Barakat, 23, a dentistry student at the university; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Abu-Salha, believe they may have been killed because they are Muslim.
The FBI is assisting local police with evidence collection, but on Thursday the agency said in a statement that "The FBI has also opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case." A preliminary inquiry is short of a full investigation.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the killings, which took place at 5:11 p.m. in a neighborhood just east of the UNC campus. Officers found all three victims dead from gunshot wounds.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said that the investigation does not suggest bias was a motive in the killings, but that Hicks was "motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking." Hicks' wife also denied that he was anti-Muslim. The victims' family members have called it a hate crime, and say their slain loved ones had complained about Hicks in the past.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group that on Wednesday called on authorities to investigate speculation that bias played a role in the killings, on Thursday welcomed the inquiry. "This case is quickly becoming a touchstone for the American Muslim community’s sense of security and inclusion," the group said in a statement.
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