CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Police in Chapel Hill say a shooting Tuesday night that left three Muslim students including two sisters dead may have been sparked by an ongoing parking dispute between neighbors, however the father of two of the victims insists it was a crime motivated by hate.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, of Chapel Hill, Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh, were shot to death Tuesday night at the Finley Forest Condominiums on Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill.
Police charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill with three counts of first degree murder in their deaths. He is being held in the Durham County Jail.
Police said officers responded to the shooting around 5:11 p.m. on Tuesday. A preliminary investigation determined that the motive behind the shooting was an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.
Following the deadly shooting, a man could be seen pleading with law enforcement at the apartment complex, demanding to know if his son was OK.
“Tell me how my son is! What’s his situation?” the man yelled. “If he’s dead, tell me he’s dead! If he’s alive, tell me he’s alive! Just tell me, straight up!”
The man said he was going to go in and check on his son even if it meant he would go to jail.
Alert Carolina notified the UNC community shortly after 7 p.m. saying the shooting posed no ongoing threat.
‘That’s how hate works’
Chapel Hill Police said Hicks was cooperating with the investigation while investigators explored why he committed “such a senseless and tragic act.”
Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two sisters, told WNCN that he believes the crime was motivated by hate.
“We’re holding strong. Our hearts are broken,” Mohammad Abu-Salha said. “This is a hate crime and that’s how hate works.”
His feelings were echoed by the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who is a statement Wednesday urged police to move swiftly on the matter.
“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,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community.”
Chapel Hill police Chief Chris Blue said his department understood the concerns and was working to determine if religious bias may have played a role in the three students’ deaths.
“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,” Blue said. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly.”
Hicks made his first court appearance Wednesday around 10:30 a.m., telling the judge he understood the charges against him. The judge did not grant Hicks bond and he was assigned a public defender.
Hicks’ next appearance will be on March 4.
‘It’s a big loss’
Barakat graduated from Broughton High School in Raleigh, and both Mohammad and Abu-Salha attended Athens Drive High School in Raleigh.
According to an Alert Carolina message issued at 3:35 a.m. to University of North Carolina students and staff, Barakat was a second-year student in the School of Dentistry. Yusor Mohammad, who was Barakat’s wife, had planned to attend the School of Dentistry in the fall.
According to a YouCaring.com page, Barakat was an organizer of a Syrian Dental Relief project. The UNC School of Dentistry and the Syrian American Medical Society were also listed as organizers of the fundraiser.
In a video on the the website, Barakat talks about how he needs help from the public to raise money to provide urgent dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Barakat and the other organizers had a $20,000 goal, which they already surpassed.
Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha attended North Carolina State University. In a statement to students and staff, Chancellor Randy Woodson said that Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was a sophomore at N.C. State while her sister, Yusor Mohammad, graduated in December 2014.
Woodson also said that Barakat graduated from N.C. State in May 2013.
Khalilah Sabra, of the Muslim American Society, said all three victims were Muslim and that she knew the victims very well. She said Barakat’s parents were from Syria.
“It’s a big loss,” Sabra said. “There’s no way to define how the absence of Deah [Barakat] and his family will be felt. I mean it’s going to be there.”
According to a Facebook page for the victims, a vigil will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill.
‘An exemplary student’
According to Carver Weaver of Durham Technical Community College, Hicks enrolled in the school in 2012.
Weaver said Hicks was seeking three certificates in paralegal studies. Weaver said counselors described Hicks as an “exemplary student” and almost had a 3.9 GPA.
‘I’m really confused’
Residents of the apartment complex said they were in shock following the shooting.
UNC student Kristen Boling said she was at home studying at the time but never heard the shots.
“I’m really confused, and I have been since 5:30 [Tuesday night],” Boling said.
Resident Daniel Waggoner said he has noticed suspicious activity recently. He said a truck had been parked outside of a building at the complex lately.
“A couple of guys were walking through the neighborhood and I’m walking my dog, like I am now, and I heard them say to get a flashlight and take a look in this truck,” Waggoner said. “I was like, ‘Hey guys,’ and saw me with the dog and sped off at about 60 miles an hour.”