A 46-year-old North Carolina man has been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, according to local media.

Craig Stephen Hicks surrendered to the Chatham County Sheriff's Office in Pittsboro after the shooting Tuesday afternoon at a rental complex, WRAL-TV reports.

The victims, all shot in the head, were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh, police said. The two female victims were sisters.

Friends posted a Facebook page in their honor on Wednesday.

Hicks and the victims all lived at the same Finley Forest apartment buildings, according to

It was not immediately clear if the religion of the victims was a factor in the killings.

Police said an ongoing dispute over a parking space may have led to the shootings, but that offices were looking into the reason behind the "senseless and tragic act."

"We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case," Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly."

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, called on authorities Wednesday to determine as quickly as possible whether religion was a factor in the killings.

"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," Awad said in a statement.

The killings triggered an outcry overnight on Twitter — under the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter — by those who feel the victims were marked by their religion.

Barakat, a second-year dental student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Yusor Mohammad were married in late December, WRAL reports, quoting school officials.

The friends' Facebook page said the couple traveled to Turkey last year to provide free dental care to students.

"It's a very quiet community," resident Bethany Boring told WRAL-TV. "It's a lot of graduate and professional students. You know, professional families."

Read or Share this story: