Following days of demands that the triple murder be treated as a hate crime, federal investigators are now examining Craig Stephen Hicks’s fatal shooting of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. On Thursday night, the FBI said that it had “opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case.” So far, the North Carolina authorities have blamed the Muslim students’ deaths on a dispute over parking, though they have said that they are trying to determine whether Hicks was also motivated by his victims’ religion or ethnicity.
While the FBI inquiry is not a full-fledged investigation, the announcement seems to have provided some comfort to the Barakat and Abu-Salha families and their supporters. (It’s worth noting that it’s fairly unusual for the agency to probe a case as early as it has here.) As a spokesperson, Linda Sarsour, told the New York Times, “Everybody in both families — brothers, sisters, parents — believes wholeheartedly that this is a hate crime, so they feel validated that the F.B.I. is looking into it. We’re in a pretty critical juncture when it comes to Americans and Islam. The feds might be doing this as a way to say to the American Muslim community, here’s an olive branch.”
Meanwhile, on Friday, President Obama issued his first statement on the killings. “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,” he said. “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.”