President Obama weighed in today on the shooting of three Muslim students in North Carolina, saying the FBI opened an investigation yesterday into the crime.
Craig Hicks, 46, turned himself into police after Deah Shaddy Barakat, Barakat’s wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, were killed on Tuesday. Police in Chapel Hill said initial evidence points to a parking dispute.
Family have said the three youths were shot in the head execution-style inside their apartment. A friend said Hicks previously showed up at the apartment, holding a gun, because he thought they were playing the board game Risk too loud.
Neighbors have called him an “equal opportunity” bully, noting he was unfriendly to everyone and regularly complained while openly carrying a gun. He was also an avowed atheist, liking left-wing personalities on his Facebook page and posting against religion in general. His ex-wife said he loved the movie Falling Down, where Michael Douglas’ character goes on a shooting spree.
His current wife said Tuesday that the killings “had nothing do with religion or the victims’ faith,” then announced Wednesday she’s divorcing him.
“In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “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,” Obama added.
He then quoted Yusor, who was going to dentistry school: “Growing up in America has been such a blessing. 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.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim members of Congress, said yesterday that there seem to be “enough facts” to investigate federal hate-crime violations.
“There certainly are some facts to indicate that this may — their religion may have been a factor. 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,” Ellison told CNN.
The congressman said he came to that conclusion based on “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.”
“What I want to say is that 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,” Ellison added. “I just think that — I don’t want anybody to jump to any conclusions. I want us to keep our minds open and follow the facts where they lead us.”