A 46-year-old man has been charged in connection with the murder of three Muslim university students on Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Police have charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill, with three counts of first degree murder. Hicks, who turned himself in, is being held in the Durham County jail.

The victims are Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Barakat was a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina, where his wife was planning to begin her dental studies in the autumn. Her sister was a student at North Carolina State University.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt is expected to make a statement on Wednesday. In a statement, the university said: “We are sensitive to the impact an incident of this nature has on campus and in the community. We understand you want to know the facts as quickly as possible. At the same time, we must respect the job our Chapel Hill police have as they investigate this crime.”

Chapel Hill police have given no indication yet of a possible motive, but overnight news of the three deaths gave gave life to the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter – a social media rallying cry reminiscent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement following multiple killings across the US in the last six months.

A Facebook post from before the shooting – allegedly written by Hicks, who claimed to be an atheist – has been widely shared on social media, citing the outspoken opponent of religion Richard Dawkins:

Dawkins, in a subsequent tweet of his own, wrote: “How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?”

deah barakat

 Deah Barakat, bottom centre, with friends. Photograph: Supplied.

On social media, those who said they knew the couple noted their humanitarian work. Barakat was raising money to provide dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. The last update Barakat posted on Facebook was a photograph from a charity event on 29 January at which he helped provide free dental supplies and food to homeless people in downtown Durham.

Barakat and Abu-Salha married on 27 December. The newlyweds attended North Carolina State University as undergraduates.

Based on Barakat’s social media pages, he enjoyed playing basketball and watching football. Razan, the younger sister, posted on her accounts that she had just started a new semester at NCSU, where she was studying architecture and environmental design. Her Tumblr page showed a passion for art, fashion and football.

via Three Muslim students dead in North Carolina shooting as suspect arrested | US news | The Guardian.