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3 students shot to death in apartment near UNC Chapel Hill
By Saeed Ahmed and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
Was it a dispute over a parking space or something more sinister that prompted the shooting death of three students in an apartment near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus?
Police said "an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking" might have been a factor in the shootings Tuesday evening but said they weren't dismissing the possibility of a hate crime.
The victims -- a newlywed couple and the bride's younger sister -- were shot in the head, sources told CNN affiliate WRAL.
Their families have said they believe the shootings were motivated by hate, and the suspect had threatened the three before, said family spokeswoman Linda Sarsour. The nature of the previous threats was unclear.
All three of the victims, Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were Muslim. And given their religion and comments the alleged shooter apparently left on a Facebook page, many social media users wondered what role the victims' faith may have played.
The 46-year-old suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been charged with murder.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, his wife said she was "shocked" by the killings and offered condolences to the victims' families.
"This incident had nothing to do with religion or the victims' faith, but in fact was related to the longstanding parking disputes that my husband had with the neighbors," Karen Hicks said.
Rob Maitland, her attorney, said the shooting "highlights the importance of access to mental health care services."
He declined to provide any details about the suspect's mental health history, but said, "obviously it's not within the range of normal behavior for someone to shoot three people over parking issues."
The father of the female victims, however, told a local newspaper that he was sure that wasn't true.
"It was execution style, a bullet in every head," the women's father, Mohammad Abu-Salha, told the News & Observer in Raleigh. "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far."
Suzanne Barakat, Deah's older sister, also told reporters her family wants investigators to treat the case as a hate crime.
"We are still in a state of shock and will never be able to make sense of this horrendous tragedy," she said. "We ask that the authorities investigate these senseless and heinous murders as a hate crime."