The FBI has opened a preliminary hate-crime investigation into the murder of three Muslim students this week near the University of North Carolina.
The agency said late Thursday in a statement that it would continue to provide assistance to the Chapel Hill Police Department as it investigates the murders, according to the Los Angeles Times. Local authorities had already announced their intention to look into whether religious hate played a role in the triple shooting.
The FBI added that it had opened its own “parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case,” according to the LA Times.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was arrested and charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder. The victims were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Bakarat’s wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Abu-Salha’s sister Razan, 19.
Police have suggested that Hicks may have been motivated to commit the murders by a long-running parking dispute. But many social media users pointed to Hicks’ Facebook profile, which showcases his strong anti-religion bias and love of guns, as evidence of a potential motive after the shooting.