President Barack Obama called the fatal shootings of three young people in their Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home this week “brutal and outrageous” — and asked Americans to remember their promising lives. Local police say the victims — Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19 — were murdered by a neighbor over a parking dispute. But family members contend the three were targeted because they were Muslim and that they had expressed fear of the accused shooter.
The FBI said Thursday it is opening an inquiry into their deaths, although there was no immediate evidence that suspect Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, went after them because of their religion. In his statement Friday, Obama said the FBI will determine whether any federal laws were violated:
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.
“Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said recently. “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.”
Update: Attorney General Eric Holder released the following statement Friday regarding the killings:
“Like all Americans, I was shocked and saddened by this week’s heinous murders of three young people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I join President Obama in offering my deep sympathies to the friends and loved ones of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
“In addition to the ongoing local investigation, I have made available the full resources of the Department of Justice to help ensure that justice will be served in this case. The Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, have opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether any federal laws, including hate crime laws, were violated.”
“Protecting the safety and securing the civil rights of everyone in this country is, and must always remain, a top priority for today’s Department of Justice. We will never waver in this commitment. And going forward, we pledge to stand with the families of these three remarkable young people – and with all whose lives were touched by this tragedy – as they begin the long road to healing.”