US & Canada

Chapel Hill suspect's wife says murders not about religion

Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Image copyright Our Three Winners/Facebook

The wife of the man accused of killing three Muslim students said the attack was motivated by parking, not religion.

Karen Hicks said she was "shocked" by the attack but said her husband Craig, 46, had parking disputes with many neighbours, of all religions.

Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were found dead, shot in the head at home in North Carolina.

Their family has said the attack in Chapel Hill was motivated by hate.

Mohammed Abu-Salha, father of the two sisters who were killed, said Mr Hicks had killed them "execution style".

"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," he told the News-Observer newspaper.

"And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far."

On Wednesday, the wife of Mr Hicks, Karen Hicks stood alongside a lawyer as she told reporters her husband believed "everyone is equal, it doesn't matter what you look like, who you are or what you believe".

The victims

Image copyright Other
  • Deah Barakat, 23, second-year dental student (above with bride Yusor)
  • Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, due to start dental studies in autumn
  • her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, a second year student

Her lawyer said the shooting had "nothing to do with the victims' religious beliefs but had everything to do with a mundane parking spot dispute".

The lack of access to mental health care was the real issue, he said, not terror.

Chapel Hill Police said in a statement there had been an ongoing parking dispute but they are still investigating whether the attack was hate-motivated.

Mr Hicks' Facebook profile included a photo that read "Atheists for Equality". He frequently posted quotes critical of religion.

He had also posted a photo on 20 January of a gun he said was loaded and belonged to him.

Online reaction

Image copyright Twitter / Nadia Ali
Image caption Thousands of people online shared images of the victims and expressed anger with media coverage

The hashtag #ChapelHillShooting has been used more than 300,000 times and was trending not only in the US but also in the UK, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries. An Arabic hashtag, which translates as 'Chapel Hill Massacre', is also trending with more than 13,000 tweets.

The tag seems to have been started by Abed Ayoub, the legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "Please keep the family of the victims in #ChapelHill in your thoughts and prayers. Senseless violence," was the first tweet.

As the tag spread, he and other users began to put forward the argument the faith of the victims was limiting coverage of the case. "Why hasn't anyone called the #ChapelHillShooting an act of terrorism? Are the victims the wrong religion?" he later tweeted.

The case has now been covered by both national and international media. Mr Hicks expressed atheist views on Facebook, according to reports, but beyond these details little is yet known about what happened.

How North Carolina murders sparked global outrage

The preliminary investigation indicates the crime was motivated by an "ongoing neighbour dispute over parking," Chapel Hill police said in a statement.

There are still questions over what could have motivated Mr Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act, Chief Chris Blue said.

"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."

Police were called to the scene after reports on Tuesday of gunshots being fired in the area.

The bodies were found in an apartment block in the town of Chapel Hill near the University of North Carolina.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Forty-six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks was arrested on three counts of murder

Barakat raised money for dental care for Syrian refugees through the Miswak Foundation and had volunteered locally, according to the Washington Post.

The suspect, who is reported to have turned himself in, is being held at Durham County Jail while the investigation continues.

He appeared in court on Wednesday and remains in custody.

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