Three Muslim students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were shot and killed in their apartment Feb. 10. The students — Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 — were killed in Barakat and his wife’s apartment by their neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, 46.
Police now say that it was the result of an ongoing parking dispute; however, many people immediately speculated that the murders were hate crimes, as Hicks had expressed hatred toward all religions on social media. In addition, relatives of the victims said that Hicks had bothered the victims in the past.
Reporters and investigators are receiving a great deal of criticism for potentially inadequate coverage. Major media outlets did not break the news until the morning after the shooting, which occurred around 5 p.m. Feb. 10. The police did not release a statement until 3:35 a.m. Feb. 11 and have yet to release the autopsy report as of Wednesday night.
The story attracted a great deal of attention on social media. It inspired many hashtags including “#ChapelHillShooting” and “#MuslimLivesMatter,” the latter being a result of speculation that the murder was a hate crime. As it turns out, it seemingly attracted more social media attention than traditional media attention. The incident sparked numerous complaints about how there was a higher likelihood of finding out about the shooting from Twitter and Facebook posts than from major news organizations. After the story was released on the morning of Feb. 11, there were almost no follow-up reports throughout the day until later that evening, when police released the claim that Hicks carried out the murder as a result of an ongoing parking dispute. Investigators and reporters seemed nearly adamant about emphasizing the potential parking dispute.
It is unfair to conclude whether it was a hate crime or not, but police and reporters are mostly emphasizing the claim that it was a parking dispute, shedding minimal light on the families’ comments about Hicks’ prior harassment toward the students. The word “terrorism” ceases to appear in any mainstream stories about the incident.
When a Muslim or a group of Muslims attacks Americans or any non-Muslims, reporters and investigators instantly label it a terrorist attack. In this situation, the tables are turned and news outlets have yet to propose any labels. This is not new. In 2011, a Texas man made a bomb threat on a mosque in Tennessee. While he never followed through with the threat, it was still, without a doubt, a terroristic threat; however, the word “terrorist” appeared in none of the stories pertaining to the incident.
If, by chance, the shooting was, in fact, a hate crime, then it was, by definition, a terrorist attack. The question is, why is the media so hesitant to speculate as to whether it was a terrorist attack or not? Why did the story take so long to pick up momentum in the news? The media has failed to acknowledge the severity of the incident and this is frightening and destructive. No one even conducted an interview with the family for days after the incident. These three innocent, tremendously kind students lost their lives at the dawn of their adulthood. We owe them and their family more respect than this.