Why Did Craig Stephen Hicks Murder 3 Muslim Students in North Carolina?
Police in Chapel Hill, North Carolina say an ongoing parking dispute may have led a committed atheist to shoot dead three Muslim students on Tuesday. But many are questioning whether 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, who turned himself in to police in the wake of the slayings, was motivated by anti-Muslim hatred.
The Chapel Hill News reports Hicks is being held in the Durham County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder after shooting 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 on Tuesday shortly after 5:00 p.m. in the Finley Forest apartment complex where the four of them all lived. All three victims were shot in the head.
Barakat was a doctoral student in University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry. The sisters were North Carolina State University students. Barakat and Mohammed were married in December and had both traveled to Turkey to provide free dental care for students, USA Today reports. Abu-Salha was a sophomore majoring in design.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” Chapel Hill Police spokesman Lt. Joshua Mecimore told the Charlotte News & Observer. “Hicks is cooperating with investigators.”
But many others believe Hicks was motivated by something more sinister.
“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement.
Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of the two slain women, believes Hicks was motivated by hatred for Muslims.
“This has all the signs. It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha told the News & Observer. “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.”
On his Facebook page, Hicks described himself as an atheist. He often posted memes and other images mocking religion and voiced his support for a group called Atheists for Equality. One of his most recent posts asks “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues.”
“I give your religion as much respect as your religion gives me,” Hicks wrote. “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.”
None of Hicks’ posts advocated violence against believers. He did post a photo of his .38 revolver with “five extra rounds in a speed loader.”
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue released a statement calling the killings “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,” said Blue. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly.”
There has been an outpouring of social media condemnation of the killings, with the Twitter hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter trending well into Wednesday.
The North Carolina murders have also been condemned by leading atheists.
“How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?” tweeted Richard Dawkins, author of the international bestseller “The God Delusion,” which is listed as one of Hick’s favorite books.
There are also calls on social media for donations to Syrian Dental Relief, one of the charities supported by Deah Barakat, who volunteered with numerous organizations providing dental care to Palestinian and Syrian refugees. He also helped homeless people in the United States.