The recent shootings in the quiet North Carolina town of Chapel Hill have rocked the nation and stirred up controversial issues of racism and religion this week, as Craig Stephen Hicks awaits his trial for the alleged murder of three Muslim neighbors.
On Tuesday, a gunman opened fire in a quiet and peaceful neighborhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, killing Deah Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in and was promptly charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of two slain women, asks that the police investigate the matter as a hate crime.
Abu-Salha said, “Honest to God, [Hicks] hates us for what we are and how we look,” and that Craig Hicks had previously harassed her and her family on multiple occasions.
“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.”
Hicks’ wife of 7 years, Karen, maintains that Craig Stephen Hicks is not a racist doesn’t have anything against religion. She said that when Hicks came home, he was upset that he had no place to park, an ongoing issue with Craig Hicks and his neighbors.
“He believed that everybody should be treated equally and fair. I do believe that something clicked or snapped, the wrong way.”
Craig Stephen Hicks is a self-declared gun enthusiast, gay rights activist, and atheist. Hicks supported the online group Atheists for Equality and frequently posted about these issues on his Facebook page.
U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand told reporters at a press conference, “This obviously is a very new investigation. The events … are not part of a targeting campaign against Muslims in North Carolina. [There is] no information this is part of an organized event against Muslims. This appears, at this point, to be an isolated incident.”
The official statement from the Chapel Hill Police Department is that the preliminary findings show the dispute occurred over parking and that Hicks was cooperating with the investigation. Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue commented on the hate crime aspect.
“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.”
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.