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Three Muslim students shot and killed near University of North Carolina: What do we know?

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Al Drago/The News & Observer/AP Photo

(Read caption) In this Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 photo, Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders near Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill, N.C. A man, his wife, and her sister, all college students, were shot to death at a quiet condominium complex near the University of North Carolina, but police had not yet given a motive or released details about the suspect. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the Tuesday shooting, Chapel Hill police told local news outlets.

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Violence erupted Tuesday when three people – a young married couple and the wife's sister – were shot to death in their apartment near the University of North Carolina (UNC) campus in Chapel Hill.

Details are still emerging, but here’s what we know about the shooting so far:

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A man has been arrested

A local man, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in to the nearby Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, according to multiple news reports. Authorities have not described a motive or released details about the suspect.

Mr. Hicks is currently being held at the Durham County Jail.

The three victims were Muslim

A little after 5 p.m. Tuesday, local police responded to a report of gunshots in a condominium complex east of the UNC campus, The New York Times reported.

They identified the three victims, all dead on the scene, as: Deah Shaddy Bakarat, 23; his wife of two months Yusor Mohammad, 21; and Ms. Mohammad’s sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, according to The Washington Post.

Mr. Bakarat was a second-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry, and his wife was planning to start her dental studies in the fall, according to a news release from the school. Mohammad also volunteered with a local dental clinic. Ms. Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University in nearby Raleigh.

All three were Muslim while Hicks reportedly described himself as atheist, which has given rise to speculation that the killings might be related to their religion.

Bakarat’s brother Farris has started a Facebook page called “Our Three Winners,” where he posts photos of the three victims and shares details about their lives.

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The crime has sparked a social media outcry

The viral hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter has revealed a slew of opinions on the shooting. Many expressed sympathy for the victims and their relatives:

Others criticized the media for what was perceived as a lack of coverage for the crime after it occurred:

Still others slammed Islamophobia in the United States:

The Muslim community has made a statement

Muslims make up about 1 percent of America’s population of 316 million, though Americans tend to overestimate the number, according to the British research group Ipsos MORI.

Americans also tend to feel more coldly toward Muslims than almost any other religious group save atheists, a Pew Research Center study found.

The most recent report released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations placed Islamophobia in America at 5.9 out of 10 – though these numbers came out before the Islamic State began its reign of terror in the Middle East.

CAIR, a Washington-based group that aims to challenge stereotypes of Muslims and Islam,  issued a statement Wednesday morning about the UNC killings, calling on officials to quickly address the speculation about Hicks’ motive.

“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.