RALEIGH, United States (AFP) -The families of three Muslim students shot dead by a neighbour in the US 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 new wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who authorities say were killed by a neighbour in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill.
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 Tuesday’s fatal shootings as a parking dispute, but victims’ families repeated their belief the attack was religiously motivated.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had launched a parallel probe into the killings. Federal prosecutors often look into suspected hate-crime cases – a conviction for “hate crime” results in a tougher sentence.
“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.
Neighbours recalled Hicks as troublesome, frequently squabbling with nearby residents over parking and seen with his gun in public, according to local media reports.
The killings rattled the Chapel Hill community, fuelling fears among some Muslims in the tight-knit university town, but officials say it did not appear to be part of a broader anti-Muslim campaign.
“To be honest, it makes me more scared because I have two babies so I don’t even want to imagine,” said Sarah Alhorani, a former student at University of North Carolina, where Barakat was a second year dentistry student.