Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, said that he is “confident” that the shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Tuesday which left three Muslim students dead was about more than a dispute over parking.
“There certainly are some facts to indicate that this may — their religion may have been a factor,” Ellison told CNN on Thursday. “So I think that it’s very important that we pursue this and get to the bottom of it.”
“I am confident based on my review of the facts that the parking answer is certainly not the whole story,” he continued.
Debate has raged over whether Craig Hicks, a 46-year-old student at a technical college, shot Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, over problems with parking at the Finley Forest condominiums or because of the victims’ religion.
National Muslim groups spoke out early on and asserted that it was likely that the shooting was a hate crime. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter — a riff off of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that was used last year — spread across social media.
But police said early Wednesday that a possible motive for the shooting was a dispute over parking.
Despite the claim, the father of the two murdered women told reporters that he still believed that Hicks was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. He said that one of his daughters had previously mentioned how hateful Hicks was towards her and that she believed he hated her because of how she looks. Both sisters wore the hijab.
Hicks’ Facebook page shows him to be an outspoken atheist with contempt for all organized religion, with most of his hostility aimed at Christianity.
But Hicks’ wife said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that her husband was not motivated to kill the students because they are Muslim. She described him as “tolerant” of race and religion. His Facebook page shows that he expressed support for numerous progressive causes such as abortion rights and gay marriage.
Instead, Mrs. Hicks said that her husband was motivated by anger over a long-running parking dispute.
An attorney for Mrs. Hicks said that the issue also centered around the homeowners’ association’s rules over parking.
Neighbors seemed to support the parking dispute angle. They described Hicks as an angry, hostile man whose outbursts over parking issues and noise prompted a neighborhood meeting last year. (RELATED: Wife Of North Carolina Shooter Denies Hate Crime Accusations)
Ellison said he is discounting the parking dispute motive based on news reports he’s read. He also questioned why, if Hicks’ motive was the parking issue, why he shot the three students in their apartment and not in the parking lot.
“Newspaper articles I’ve read and also people I’ve talked to in North Carolina who have told me that there was some history between the people, that there may have been comments about — there may have been some comments referring to, you know, religious clothing or clothing associated with certain religious practices,” Ellison said.
“If the whole story about the parking were accurate, you would think that it would happen at a parking place where there was some kind of an argument,” Ellison said.
“It’s prudent for us not to jump to a conclusion, but it’s also prudent for us to keep all options open, including the possibility that it was a bias motivated crime,” he added.