Atheist's killing of Chapel Hill Muslims may not be hate crime

by Joni B. Hannigan , Editorial Staff |

(Facebook)Deah Barakat (l), Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan Abu-Salha (r) stand together in this undated Facebook photo.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Christian Examiner) -- Despite earlier reports it could have been a hate crime, officials now believe the killing of three Muslims could have sprung from a neighbor dispute over parking and noise inside a condominium complex.

Police spokesman Lt. Joshua Mecimore said a preliminary investigation indicated the crime ws "motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking" and that Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who lives in the complex, and is charged with the murders, is cooperatiing with investigators, according to newsobserver.com.

Self-described as a "gun-toting" and avowed atheist, Hicks appeared angry and confrontational, according to an article in Yahoo News.

He was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the Tuesday shooting deaths of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salba, 19. All three were U.S. born and grew up in the area, according to USA Today.

Hicks was appointed a public defender after pleading indigence.

Chapel Hill police Chief Chris Blue said every lead will be exhausted because "we understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated" he told the news organization in an email.

Social media was alive Feb. 11 with people who blamed anti-Muslim rhetoric for the killing as a hate crime with some posting social media updates with the hashtags "MuslimLivesMatter."

A neighbor had called 911 and reported hearing 5-10 shots and people screaming Tuesday.

Mohammad Abu-Salha, the women's father, who is a psychiatrist, said he is convinced it was a hate crime and pointed to the media he said which "bombards the American citizen with Islamic, Islamic, Islamic terrorism and makes people here scared of us and hate us and want us out," Abu-Salha said.

His wife, Karen Hicks, before she announced she is divorcing him, said the killings "had nothing to do with the religion or the victims' faith."

An ex wife had told the newspaper he "showed no compassion" for people and was obsessed with a movie about a shooting rampage, "Falling Down."

In the article, Hicks' wife said he was unemployed and studying to become a paralegal. He drove a 15-year-old car she said, and he often argued with neighbors, including those he killed, about the tight parking situation at the complex where they all lived, near UNC-Chapel Hill.

He complained about both Christians and Muslims on his Facebook page, the article said. "Some call me a gun toting liberal, others call me an open-minded Conservative," Hicks wrote. He apparently had a concealed weapons permit and carried a gun.

"This man was frustrated day in and day out about not being able to park where he wanted to," according to a statement made by Karen Hicks' attorney Robert Maitland, in the Yahoo article.