Pressure grows to label killing of Muslim students a hate crime

Last Updated Feb 13, 2015 6:04 AM EST

RALEIGH, N.C. - More than 5,000 people attended funeral prayers for the three murdered Muslim students in North Carolina Thursday. The massive crowds that came to mourn made it clear that Muslims here feel a bubbling tide of resentment that has boiled over.

3 Muslim students killed; hate crime or parking dispute?

Khadidja Berriziga, a friend of the murdered couple, told me she doesn't believe the killing was over a parking dispute, as police have suggested.

"They were just three innocent souls" she said through tears. "Definitely a hate crime."

Khadidja Berriziga CBS News

She joined the prayers as the caskets carrying Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were carried across the university soccer field.

"Please investigate, please look carefully" Mohammed Abu-Salha, the girls' father pleaded. "I have talked to lawyers, I have talked to law professors this has hate crime written all over it."

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, allegedly shot the three victims on Tuesday night. But police have said they believe the shooting happened over a dispute about a parking space outside the building where the suspect lives.

Police stood with Muslim leaders Thursday and said they continue to investigate every angle - including whether a hate crime was committed.

The FBI said Thursday that it had "opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether any federal laws were violated." U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand, the district's top federal prosecutor, had said Wednesday that there was no immediate evidence Muslims were being targeted.

The killings have gained worldwide attention on social media sites with the hashtag, "MuslimLivesMatter."

What defines a hate crime?

The murders have exposed a feeling among some Muslims that they are facing racial intolerance. Osama Abu Irshaid is with The American Muslims for Palestine.

"We won't demand we be treated in a privileged way but we demand to be treated no less than any average American," said Irshaid.

Vigils started Thursday night at North Carolina State University for the victims. All three attended classes at the university.