Chapel Hill shooting: Thousands of mourners pay respects at funeral of murdered students

The ceremony was moved to a sports field to accommodate mourners

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The Independent US

Over 5,000 mourners have attended the funeral of three young adults gunned down in North Carolina this week.

The turnout on Thursday was so unexpectedly large that the ceremony had to be moved from a mosque to a nearby university athletics field.

Before the prayer service, loved ones paid their final respects to the victims in a small building at the Islamic Association of Raleigh mosque, where the family has worshipped for years.

The service continued across the street in a field owned by North Carolina State University, where two of the victims had graduated and one was a student.

 

Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were found dead Tuesday at the newlywed couple's home near the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus.

Barakat was a second-year dentistry student at the institution where his wife planned to join him in the autumn term.

North Carolina police estimated as many as 5,500 people had gathered to remember the three victims.  

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Mourners pray during a service for the three shooting victims. (AFP)

The motive behind the murders remains uncertain, although the father of the two slain women said the incident was a “hate crime” spurred by the victims’ religion.

He told The Associated Press on Thursday: "We are definitely certain that our daughters were targeted for their religion."

The newlywed wife's father claimed his daughter "felt that he was hateful and he did not like them, who they were and the way they looked."

Officials have said they are investigating the possibility the crime was hate-motivated, but said the shooting was sparked by a parking dispute.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who has described himself as a "gun toting" atheist, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Neighbours described Hicks as angry and confrontational, while his ex-wife said he was obsessed with the 1993 shooting-rampage movie Falling Down and showed "no compassion at all" for other people.

His current wife, Karen Hicks, said that her husband “champions the rights of others” and that the killings “had nothing do with religion or the victims' faith”, before issuing another statement saying she plans to divorce him.

Speaking to mourners in a field near a mosque in Raleigh, the women's father, Mohammad Abu-Salha, said the victims' families did not want revenge or care about Hicks' punishment, but rather sought to ensure that other young people in the United States would not suffer similar violence.

Chapel Hill police Chief Chris Blue said on Wednesday: “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated, and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case.”

Additional reporting by PA

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