Last evening three Muslims were shot and killed at their apartment complex near UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Craig Hicks, 46, is in custody now as the suspected killer of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Claims the violence stemmed from an ongoing parking space dispute at the housing complex have been noted by the media and research into the suspect's background have yielded some surprising results.
Mr. Hicks, while opposed to gun control, seems to be a left-leaning thinker. He is an atheist, he supports LGBT marriage equality, and describes his beliefs as 'anti-theist'. Furthermore, he makes clear in his profile online he is interested in 'men and women', suggesting he perhaps describes himself as bisexual. None of his FaceBook postings feature any specific animus towards Islam as a belief system or Muslims as minority group. If anything, he is more nuanced in his outlook than commonly seen in the New Atheist community. His FaceBook postings are devoted more towards the rebuke of Western Christianity than Islam. As such, it is unlikely that this was a hate crime and more likely a tragedy due to a neighborly argument.
UPDATE: Parent of two of the victims has come forward and stated in interviews that he believes the crime was motivated by anti-Islamic prejudice (see video below). While previous research did not come across blatant signs of Orientalism on suspect's FaceBook page, the 'anti-theist' outlook on Islam has been noted as extremely problematic. CNN coverage noted that Hicks had been cordial with Mr. Barakat and animus only began when the two female victims, who wore hijab, moved into the complex some time ago.
FOLLOW UP: After a period of critical reflection, I have come to the conclusion that a major element of this discussion requires a deep level of contemplation and discussion within the American secularist community about Orientalist/Islamophobic prejudices that have gained a real level of moral traction since the attack on 9/11 attacks and the wars that followed. This issue has to specifically deal with the recent texts by authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Multiple commentators have previously raised this issue, including myself, and the reaction has been from hostile to demeaning. The refusal of the secular community to reflect critically on the underlying anti-Arab and general prejudice against brown and black people that can be fostered by blanket statements about Islam will only insure this type of tragedy will happen again and will be perpetrated by an atheist of some persuasion.