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Motive Not Clear in Killing of Three Muslim Students in North Carolina

Mourners at vigil for three people killed near UNC-Chapel Hill


John Burger - published on 02/11/15

Suspect in Chapel Hill shootings is atheist but also said to have disputed parking.

Was it a "hate crime," or did he just fly off the handle over a parking dispute?

It may be a while before the motive is known in the shooting death of three young Muslims Tuesday near the University of North Carolina.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged Wednesday with the fatal shooting of three students at a condominium complex in Chapel Hill. Hicks lived in the same complex as the dead—a newlywed couple, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and  Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Barakat was in his second year in the graduate school of dentistry at the University of North Carolina, and his wife planned to enroll there in the fall. Razan Abu-Salha was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University.

The shooting occurred Tuesday around 5pm. The three victims were of Arab descent, and photos on Facebook show the two women wearing head scarves, leading to speculation on Twitter and Facebook that the killings might have been anti-Muslim violence, according to the New York Times.

“Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," said a Chapel Hill police statement.

But the statement wasn’t enough to discourage speculation on the part of the media, who quickly scanned the suspect’s social media sites. There’s no anti-Muslim sentiment there, just plenty of anti-religion sentiment.

Apparently, Hicks, an atheist, has posted anti-religious views on what is reportedly his Facebook page. The page was frequently updated with quotes, cartoons and links representing these opinions, said the Huffington Post.

“If you plan to be enjoying heaven while multitudes are tortured forever, then you are as much of a sociopath as the god that you worship,” read a meme on his page.

Last month, he posted a photo that says, “Praying is pointless, useless, narcissistic, arrogant, and lazy; just like the imaginary god you pray to.”

He expressed support for groups like Atheists for Equality, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Neighbors say he always seemed angry and confrontational. His ex-wife said he was obsessed with the shooting-rampage movie "Falling Down," and showed "no compassion at all" for other people. Hicks’ current wife told reporters that Hicks believes in rights for everyone, including the right of same-sex couples to marry and for women to abort their unborn children.

But at least one Muslim is calling for prayer and patience until the results of the police investigation are announced. Abdullah Antepli, director of Muslim affairs at nearby Duke University, posted a statement on Facebook, urging, “Please refrain from using any language that will spray hate, prejudice and bias. Please keep yourself busy with your prayers if you can, rather than spreading unhelpful information.”

Yet the trio were mourned immediately around the world by Muslims who expressed outrage at the loss of life, and the lack of news coverage overnight in the United States. Wajahat Ali, writer and co-host of Al Jazeera America’s The Stream, who knows the family of one of the victims, said that the reaction around the world had been not only an “overwhelming and fierce outpouring of pain” but also anger over a perceived double-standard, which gave rise to the hashtag #muslimlivesmatter.

Several Twitter posts making the rounds worldwide asked whether coverage would have been different had the shooter and the victims’ roles been reversed; if the shooter were a Muslim, and the victims were not.

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