By Albert Lin
Members of a North Carolina community are mourning the deaths of three Muslim students who were shot and killed by a white man, with some calling the Chapel Hill murders a hate crime.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Barakat’s wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Barakat was a grad student in dentistry at the University of North Carolina, his wife of six weeks planned to enroll in the same program this fall, and her sister was a student at nearby North Carolina State University.
The Abu-Salhas’ father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, told Raleigh’s News & Observer: “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.”
The murders have sparked the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, a spin on the prominent #BlackLivesMatter hashtag used following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Chapel Hill police released a statement saying, “Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” but Chief Chris Blue did acknowledge the possibility that the victims’ faith motivated the shootings: “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated,” he said, “and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case.”
Thomas Walker, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said, “The Muslim community has been good partners with law enforcement on a variety of fronts. It’s vitally important that their concerns not be ignored. We think it’s appropriate to closely monitor the investigation to determine any motivation in this case.”
The reason many are calling this a hate crime is because of Hicks’ anti-religion rants on his now deleted Facebook page. More than just an atheist, Hicks identified as an anti-theist.
He reportedly wrote of religion in general: “I give your religion as much respect as your religion gives me. There’s nothing complicated about it, and I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being—which your religion does with self-righteous gusto.
“When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I. But given that it doesn’t, and given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I’d say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it, as does every rational, thinking person on this planet.”
He also recently posted this photo of his .38 revolver.
Despite the cold-bloodedness of the slayings, local and national news organizations were slow to pick up on the shootings, with CNN not running a piece until 17 hours after the 5 p.m. ET incident.
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) February 11, 2015
Their inattention is perhaps best summed up by this tweet, from 4:16 AM ET:
and this cartoon:
Hicks, Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha lived in the same two-story condo building in a complex about 1.5 miles from the UNC campus, with varying reports saying they lived in adjacent apartments or on different floors.