They were members of a diaspora community from Africa’s eastern Sahel region, according to Al Jazeera. There were conflicting reports on Sunday as to the religion of the three Americans. Local outlets described the victims as Muslim, but Darfur People’s Association founder and vice president Motasim Adam, who visited with the families Saturday, told the Associated Press that Omar and Tairab were Muslim and Mekki was Christian.
“These young people were just starting out in their life,” Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton told WANE TV.
Police said the home was a place with little supervision, where young people in their teens and early 20s gathered for fun. The home was on the radar of Fort Wayne police’s gang and violent crimes unit in recent weeks, but Hamilton told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that the victims did not have any known gang affiliations. The owners of the home live in Indianapolis, the paper reported.
“A lot of people would come and go to the residence,” Hamilton said. “We talked to neighbors, and a lot of young people would come and go to this house.”
Investigators said they believe the killings occurred within a one-hour window or so, between the time a group of people left the home and later returned to find the victims. Hamilton said it would be hard for one person to carry out three killings at once, leading investigators to suspect that more than one person was involved in the crime. Investigators have not released a motive for the killings.
Rusty York, the city’s public safety director, told WPTA-TV that investigators do not think the killing was motivated by the victims’ religious affiliation.
“Hopefully, you know, we’ll be able to focus in on exactly what the reason was, but as I said before, no reason to believe this was any type of hate crime, or focused because of their religion or their nationality whatsoever,” he said.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Washington-based Muslim advocacy group, said it has reached out to investigators in the case, to local Muslim community leaders and to the families of the victims.
He said that many in the Muslim community are comparing the killings to the three Muslims who were killed in Chapel Hill, N.C. a year ago. At that time, relatives of the victims insisted that the incident should be viewed as a hate crime.
“People think back to the Chapel Hill murders where the family and Muslim community firmly believes it is a bias motive,” Hooper said. “They look at this and see a similar kind of thing so that’s in everyone’s mind. It brings back those memories and concerns.”
Despite the authority’s assurances that the killings were not motivated by hate, critics on social media said the link between the men’s religion and their deaths was unmistakable. The victims’ supporters began using the hashtag: #OurThreeBoys
Hamilton told the Journal Gazette that he had been meeting since last week with the victims’ families as well as members of the city’s African community. He told the paper that he asked for the FBI’s assistance in case investigators find a link between the victim’s religion and their deaths.
During Omar and Tairab’s funeral on Saturday, Hamilton urged the public to step forward with information about the crime, according to CNN.
“I need someone to come and tell me what they know,” he said. “Please, I’m asking for your help and your mercy to bring justice for these young men.”
Editor’s note: The headline and story has been updated to note conflicting reports of the three victims’ religious affiliation.