, Raleigh, United States, Feb 13 – The families of three Muslim students shot dead by a white neighbor said an emotional farewell to their loved ones Thursday, reiterating calls for the killings to be treated as a hate crime.
More than 5,000 people gathered for the funeral of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who authorities say were killed by a neighbor.
The alleged shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was believed to be strongly opposed to religion, as his Facebook page showed dozens of anti-religious posts, including proclamations denouncing Christianity, Mormonism and Islam.
Police said they were investigating the crime as a parking dispute, but victims’ families repeated their belief the attack was religiously motivated.
“We are definitely certain that our daughters were targeted for their religion,” the father of the sisters, Mohammad Abu-Salha, told AFP.
“This is not a parking dispute, these children were executed with shots in the back of the heads,” he said, surrounded by tearful family members as they prepared for the final funeral prayer.
“This has hate crime written all over it and I’m not going to sit down for it,” he said later before three caskets.
He said his daughter Yusor had complained that Hicks had harassed her, and appeared at her door to complain about a parking space with a gun holstered at his waist.
Chapel Hill police Lieutenant Joshua Mecimore said the crime appeared to have been provoked by “an ongoing parking dispute between neighbors,” but added all motives were being investigated.
Officials said the incident did not appear to be part of a broader anti-Muslim campaign, and District Attorney for Middle North Carolina Ripley Rand said the killing was being treated as an isolated incident.
Neighbors recalled Hicks as troublesome, frequently squabbling with nearby residents over parking and seen with his gun in public, according to local media reports.