The national Muslim community has been vocal about the vitriolic nature of a shooting that left three young Muslim students dead earlier this week, but police in Chapel Hill, NC are hesitant to label the execution a hate crime.
The victims — 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad, and 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — were shot dead on Tuesday by neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old who described himself as a “gun-toting” atheist on social media. Hicks lived in the same building as the young University of North Carolina students. Police are still trying to determine if the shooting was spurred by religious hatred, but some say the incident appears to be fueled over a parking space dispute.
Hicks’ wife, Karen, came forward Wednesday, maintaining hatred had nothing to do with the shooting. From the Associated Press:
“I can say with absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion of the victims’ faith, but it was related to a longstanding parking dispute that my husband had with the neighbors,” Karen Hicks said.
She said her husband of seven years treated people with respect. “He often champions on his Facebook page for the rights of individuals. … He believes everyone is equal – doesn’t matter what you look like or who you are or what you believe.”
She later announced that she would be divorcing Hicks.
But the shooter’s ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, had a different take on the man who often took to social media to share pictures of guns and anti-religious posts, noting that the man she married had “no compassion.”
“…Hurley, said that before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was “Falling Down,” the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a divorced unemployed engineer who goes on a shooting rampage.
“That always freaked me out,” Hurley said. “He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all,” she said.
According to Buzzfeed, an Amazon wish list that appears to belong to the shooter was populated with weapons and other warfare items, including a drone, camouflage suit, knives, a gun concealment belt and, oddly, dental extracting forceps (Hicks’ victim, Barakat, was pursuing a degree in dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A link to the item on Hicks’ alleged Amazon page and Barakat’s academic career has not been confirmed).
His obsession with guns would later take a fatal turn, but friend and former roommate of newlyweds Barakat and Mohammed noted that the mass shooting wasn’t the first time the victims encountered Hicks.
In fact, the 46-year-old would often complain about where the two men parked their vehicles. Hicks would often have his gun on his hip, according to the friend.
Imad Ahmad, who lived in the condo where his friends were killed until Barakat and Mohammed were married in December, said Hicks complained about once a month that the two men were parking in a visitor’s space as well as their assigned spot.
“He would come over to the door, knock on the door and then have a gun on his hip saying, ‘You guys need to not park here,'” said Ahmad, a graduate student in chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill. “He did it again after they got married.”
Both Hicks and his neighbors complained to the property managers, who apparently didn’t intervene. “They told us to call the police if the guy came and harassed us again,” Ahmad said.
Another woman who lives in the area said that Hicks appeared to be “short-tempered.”
“Anytime that I saw him or saw interaction with him or friends or anyone in the parking lot or myself, he was angry,” Samantha Maness said of Hicks. “He was very angry, anytime I saw him.”
But parking disputes aside, Hicks’ anti-religion and atheist rhetoric is hard to ignore considering the religion of the three victims, two of whom wore traditional hijabs.
That’s a parallel the women’s father Mohammad Abu-Salha, friends, and Muslim supporters nationwide aren’t going to ignore.
“The media here bombards the American citizen with Islamic, Islamic, Islamic terrorism and makes people here scared of us and hate us and want us out. So if somebody has any conflict with you, and they already hate you, you get a bullet in the head,” said Abu-Salha, who is a psychiatrist.
An investigation continues. On Wednesday, Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
“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 an email.
We’ll keep you updated with the latest.
SOURCE: AP | PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook/Buzzfeed