The FBI is investigating whether Craig Hicks committed a federal crime when he fatally shot three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Tuesday.
Hicks shot 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, on Tuesday.
“The FBI is continuing to provide assistance to the Chapel Hill Police Department to process evidence related to a triple homicide investigation,” the agency said in a statement. “The FBI has also opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case.”
Though the statement does not provide specifics of the investigation, it most likely centers on whether Hicks committed a hate crime.
The shooting, which occurred at Finely Forest condominiums, immediately sparked an outcry from the Muslim community that the shooting was an anti-Muslim hate crime.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the U.S., made the allegation early Wednesday morning. The group praised the FBI’s decision to join the investigation, according to The Hill.
But Chapel Hill police, Hicks’ wife and his neighbors have all supported the contention that Hicks’ motive for the heinous deed revolved around a long-running dispute over parking.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Hicks’ wife denied claims that her husband had any animosity towards Muslims. She described him as a “tolerant” supporter of many progressive causes, such as gay marriage and abortion rights.
One picture that has emerged of Hicks is that he was deeply hostile towards people of all stripes. Neighbors at Finley Forest have described him as extremely angry. Hicks often lashed out over noise and parking issues, they said.
A community forum was held last year to address Hicks’ outbursts, though nothing came of it.
Speculation about Hicks harboring anti-Muslim bias has been made by family members of the victims.
Muhammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two murdered sisters, told reporters that his daughters had mentioned past confrontations with Hicks. Abu-Salha said that his daughters described Hicks as hateful and claimed that he hated them because of their appearance. The sisters wore the hijab.
Anti-religious statements Hicks made on his Facebook page were also cited as evidence supporting the hate crime allegations.
Hicks touted his atheism on Facebook and was indeed hostile to organized religion, but his barbs were mostly aimed at Christianity, especially conservative Christians.