NEW YORK - Braving bitterly cold weather, hundreds of people, mostly Muslims,  gathered Sunday afternoon in New York for  a vigil honouring the three Muslim college students shot and killed by a white neighbour in North Carolina last week - a slaying that sparked unease and concern among Muslims across the country.

A similar demonstration was also held in Houston, Taxes,  near the city’s upscale shopping mall Galleria and continued late into the evening. Participants lit candles and quietly raised signs that bore messages including ‘Am I next?’ and ‘Muslims for Peace.’ In New York, activists held rally at CNN headquarters in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias in news coverage after the killings of three young Muslims, before a midtown march to Fox News’ office in Rockefeller Centre.

‘We want fair and balanced news’, ‘Muslim blood matters’, ‘Stop Islamophobia’ were among hundreds of placards carried by the prostesters. Among them were Pakistanis, including Comrade Shahid, secretary-general of the Pakistan-US Freedom Forum, who demanded that the murder of three Muslim students in North Carlolina should be investigated as a hate crime. In Houston, members of the local Muslim community told the Houston Chronicle that they were not there in protest or to debate whether the act was a hate crime, but instead to call attention to the shootings and pay tribute to the victims. The three victims, identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were found dead in their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. One of their neighbors, a middle-aged white man, was later arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Police said preliminary inquiries indicated that the murder was probably motivated by a long-simmering dispute over parking place.

However, the victims’ families insisted it was a hate crime and called for an FBI inquiry into the case. On Friday, an Islamic community center in Houston was destroyed in a fire, with preliminary investigation showing it might be set intentionally. This only adds to the growing unease for many Muslims, who, by some estimates, account for about 1.2 percent of the city’s population. Houston Fire Department arson investigators have been investigating the incident, but officials haven’t released any comments on the possible cause of the blaze.

The Texas office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization, called on state and federal authorities to investigate the fire as a possible hate crime. The FBI has already been involved in the probe.