A Chapel Hill, N.C. man who fatally shot three Muslim students on Tuesday was not motivated by anti-Muslim hate but instead by a dispute over parking, his wife said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, shot the students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, on Tuesday. All three students were Muslim. Barakat and Mohammad were recently married.
“While I am unable to comment fully on the matter, 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 disputes that my husband had with the neighbors,” Karen Haggerty Hicks told reporters on Wednesday.
Speculation and outrage have swirled since the shooting with national Muslim groups, some politicians and family members of the victims asserting that Hicks killed the three because of their religion. The social media hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter was created to draw attention to the killings.
After Chapel Hill police stated early Wednesday that the shooting may have stemmed from a parking dispute, the father of Mohammad and Abu-Salha — two sisters — dismissed the claim saying that he believed the shooting was motivated by Hicks’ anti-Muslim sentiment.
“This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime,” Mohammad Abu-Salha told the News & Observer. “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.”
Hicks’ various postings on Facebook — on which he advertised his atheism — are being used as evidence that he was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. Though the postings condemn organized religion, they do not focus on Islam.
Hicks’ wife held the press conference to address those accusations, which she said are inaccurate.
“Our neighbors are various religions, races and creeds,” she said.
Asked how she knows that her husband did not act out of malice against Muslims, Hicks said “we were married for seven years, and that is one thing that I do know about him. He often champions, on his Facebook page for the rights of many individuals.”
“For same sex marriages, abortion, race,” she said.
Indeed, Hicks’ posts indicate that he is progressive on many issues.
While Hicks’ social media posts do not indicate that he had strong political leaning, his one reference to national political candidates was a “like” on an article from BarackObama.com criticizing Mitt Romney for his tax plan.
In another post before the 2012 election, Hicks expressed frustration with a company that was considering dropping health insurance if Obama won.
North Carolina voter registration records show that Hicks voted Democratic last May.
Hicks said that her husband was a full-time student. He was enrolled in a paralegal program at Durham Technical College and was scheduled to graduate in May.
Hicks’ attorney addressed some questions from reporters and provided more detail on Hicks’ long-standing issue with his homeowners’ association’s parking regulations.
The attorney said that Hicks has addressed those issues with the association on numerous occasions and that they are a matter of public record.
The attorney also denied that Hicks committed a hate crime and instead said that the incident shows that more help is needed for people who suffer from mental illness.
“It is a simple matter. It has nothing to do with the religious faith of the victims. It has nothing to do with terrorism,” the attorney said.
“It has nothing to do with anything but the mundane issue of this man being frustrated day in and day out with not being able to park where he wanted to park, and unfortunately these victims were there at the wrong time at the wrong place, and my personal opinion is that this highlights the importance of access to mental health care services and us removing from our society the stigma the right to ask for that help when they need it.”
Asked to expand on Hicks’ mental health issues, the attorney declined to give specifics but said that it is not normal for someone to shoot people over a parking issue.