An atheist gun lover has been arrested in North Carolina after three Muslim college students were shot in the the head. Cops say Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, killed his neighbors on the evening of February 10 in a quiet residential complex in Chapel Hill. The deceased victims — 23-year-old dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad Barakat, and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — were model students with exemplary records of academic achievement and public service. Hicks faces three counts of first-degree murder.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cops Say the Shooting Stemmed From ‘a Dispute Over Parking’
The victims were shot in the head just after 5 p.m. on February 10 at the Finley Forest complex, which houses many local college students and is located a mile and a half from the University of North Carolina campus. The shooting happened on the 200 block of Summerwalk Circle. The New York Times reports that Hicks lived in a ground-floor unit of the two-story complex, and “it appeared that Mr. Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha lived in a second-floor unit in the same building.”
A statement from Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said “the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.” While police did not label the incident a hate crime, Blue’s statement acknowledged that concern:
Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a 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. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly.
WRAL reporter Arielle Clay quoted neighbors saying the parking in the Finley Forest complex is “confusing.” She then posted a photo that explained towing in the area, above.
You can listen to the initial 911 call above. Police spokesman Lt. Joshua Mecimore told the media that Hicks is co-operating with investigators.
2. Hicks Is a ‘Gun-Toting Liberal’ & Gay Rights Advocate
According to his Facebook page, Hicks is an avowed atheist. His profile picture shows the logo of a group calling itself “Atheists for Equality.” In one post on his Facebook page, Hicks asked “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues.” On politics, Hicks says that says that he doesn’t “care about parties” but “just each individual and the rights of such in the Constitution! Some call me a gun toting Liberal, others call me an open-minded Conservative.” The same section of his page includes a lengthy rant about atheism.
Back in January 2011, Hicks commented on the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, saying:
I guess after the horrible tragedy early this week in Arizona, all Glock pistols will officially be labeled “assault weapons.” While I never cared for Glocks personally, it stinks that anyone would blame a firearm rather than the operator of such firearm for such a terrible act. I think I’ll start blaming McDonalds for my weight problem, Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan, and Islam for terrorism.
Omar Ghabra, a med student and part time reporter, identified this Amazon wish list as belonging to Hicks. Among the items listed are two handgun holsters, a rifle scope, and dental extracting forceps.
On December 30, 2014, Hicks posted a Meme to his Facebook page where said that he didn’t care if he lost friends because he supported gay rights. The alleged killer added, “They are NOT friends of mine if they do not support equality, and I am better without them.” In the about section of his page, Hicks says that he is “Interested in Men and Women.” In a later post, Hicks said, “I am not gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, intersex, or asexual. I just support this crazy thought that everyone should have equal rights.” Over the years, he’s posted a number of article in support of gay marriage and rights. He’s a member of several anti-homophobia groups on Facebook.
3. He’s Been Married for 7 Years
According to his wife, Karen, the couple have been married for seven years. In one Facebook post, Hicks begged his wife to “PLEASE GET ME OUT OF THE SOUTH!!!!.” His wife said in a statement to the media after the shooting that she believed the incident had nothing to do with religion.
She told the media, “I want to express my deepest condolences for the victims. Like everyone else, I was completely shocked.” According to his Yahoo profile, Hicks says he worked for the Ford Motor Company for 25 years and bemoaned the fact that he now drove a Nissan. He adds that his wife and mother now drove Toyotas. On his page he states that he’s married and that he “Studied Paralegal at Durham Technical Community College.” His wife told the media that he was due to graduate in May from the program.
During 2011, Hicks was working at a Harris Teeter grocery store.
4. The Victims’ Father Says It Was a Hate Crime
Hicks made his first court appearance on the morning of February 11. He was being held at Durham County Jail without bail but was later moved to Central Prison for his own safety. Hicks is facing three charges of first degree murder and is being represented by a public defender. He will be back in court for a probable cause hearing on March 4.
The Council on American Islamic Relations National Executive Director Nihad Awad issued a statement urging police to investigate a “possible bias motive” for the attack. You can watch video of Hicks’ first court appearance above.
The Durham County District Attorney said that it’s too early to say if it’s a hate crime, and he isn’t “ruling anything out or ruling anything in.” Speaking to the Raleigh News Observer, the girls’ father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist in Clayton, North Carolina, said that his daughters were killed in a hate crime. Dr. Abu-Salha said about Hicks:
This has all the signs. It was execution style, a bullet in every head. This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.
5. Two of the Victims Got Married to Each Other 2 Months Ago
Barakat, a Syrian-American, was a second-year dentistry student at the University of North Carolina and had married Yusor Mohammad on December 27, reports WRAL. Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was Yusor Mohammad’s sister.
Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was a student North Carolina State, where she was studying architecture and environmental design, according to her Facebook page. WUNC reports that Yusor was set to begin studying dentistry at UNC next fall and was due to graduate from NCSU with a degree in biological sciences.
A Facebook page set up for the victims, named Our Three Winners, says, “Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha have returned to their Lord. They have set an example in life and in death.” The Salha sisters were both Jordanian-Americans.
Both women were graduates of Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Barakat went to high school at Broughton High School in Raleigh. A vigil is being held for the three victims at the Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill at 7 p.m. on February 11.
Barakat had a page on the site YouCaring. He was fundraising for a trip to Turkey, where he would give free dental care to Turkish students. Also in 2015, he was due to travel to treat refugees of Syria’s civil war. In the aftermath of the shooting, Barakat’s YouCaring page has generated nearly $10,000 in donations. In a video promoting his trips to the Middle East, Barakat said, “These kids don’t have access to the same health care as us. Their prolonged pain can easily be taken care of by what we do.” You can watch his uplifting video above.