CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A self-described “anti-theist” has been charged with three counts of murder after gunning down three Muslims near the University of North Carolina campus on Tuesday.
Craig Hicks, 46, turned himself into the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office following the execution-style shooting that took the lives of Deah Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, as well as Abu-Salha’s sister Razan. Barakat was studying at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry and his wife was set to attend the school in the fall.
Hicks had regularly shared posts about atheism on his social media page, noting himself to be a supporter of “Atheists for Equality” and a fan of the TV show “The Atheist Experience,” as well as Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.”
“Of course I want religion to go away,” his Facebook cover reads. “I don’t deny you your right to believe whatever you’d like, but I have the right to point out it’s ignorant and dangerous for as long as your baseless superstitions keep killing people.”
On Sunday, Hicks shared a photograph about the alleged commonalities between “radical Christians” and “radical Muslims,” and late last month, he shared a quote from the page “Militant Atheism for the Soul.” He had also recently posted a photograph of his “loaded 38 revolver” with “five extra rounds in a speedloader.”
Police outlined on Wednesday that initial findings appeared to indicate that Tuesday’s shooting, which took the lives of Hicks’ Muslim neighbors, occurred over a parking dispute. However, they have not yet ruled out whether religion played a role in the incident and are further investigating the matter.
“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said in a statement. “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.”
Hicks’ wife spoke during a press conference and asserted that her husband did not target Barakat and his wife and sister-in-law because of his opposition to religion.
“I can say with my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or victims faith, but in fact was related to the long-standing parking disputes that my husband had with the neighbors,” she stated. “We were married for seven years, and that is one thing that I do know about him.”
But the family of the victims contend otherwise.
“This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime,” Mohammad Abu-Salha told the News and Observer in Raleigh. “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.”
He said that his daughter had expressed her concerns about Hicks just last week.
“Honest to God, she said, ‘He hates us for what we are and how we look,’” Abu-Salha told the outlet.