The North Carolina man accused of killing three Muslim students in a dispute over parking spaces had earlier run-ins with his neighbors, sometimes while wearing a handgun on his hip.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who has described himself as a "gun-toting" atheist, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Neighbors said Wednesday that he frequently seemed angry and confrontational. His ex-wife said he was obsessed with the shooting-rampage movie "Falling Down."
His current wife, Karen Hicks, said her husband "champions the rights of others" and said the killings "had nothing do with religion or the victims' faith." She then issued another brief statement through her lawyer, saying she's divorcing him.
Police were still trying to determine whether religious hatred played any role in the shootings. Chapel Hill Police asked the FBI for help in their probe, and Ripley Rand, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said his office was monitoring the investigation. "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," Chapel Hill police Chief Chris Blue said in an email.
Officers were summoned to the apartment complex on Tuesday evening by a neighbor who called 911 to report hearing multiple gunshots and people screaming. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were found dead at the scene. In a brief court appearance Wednesday, Hicks, who lived in the same apartment building as the victims, pleaded indigence and was appointed a public defender.
Many of the condominiums in the complex are rented or owned by students and recent graduates at UNC, whose campus is about 3 miles away. Hicks, who was unemployed, had been studying to become a paralegal, his wife said.
A Second Amendment rights advocate with a concealed weapons permit, Hicks often complained about both Christians and Muslims on his Facebook page. "Some call me a gun toting Liberal, others call me an open-minded Conservative," Hicks wrote.
Imad Ahmad, who lived in the condo until December, said Hicks complained about once a month that he and Barakat were parking in a visitor's space as well as their assigned spot. "He would come over to the door, knock on the door and then have a gun on his hip saying, `You guys need to not park here,'" said Ahmad, a graduate student in chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Both Hicks and his neighbors complained to the property managers, who apparently didn't intervene. "They told us to call the police if the guy came and harassed us again," Ahmad said.
The killings were "related to long-standing parking disputes my husband had with various neighbors regardless of their race, religion or creed," Karen Hicks said. "This man was frustrated day in and day out about not being able to park where he wanted to," said Karen Hicks' attorney, Robert Maitland.
A woman who lives near the scene of the shootings described Hicks as short-tempered. "Anytime that I saw him or saw interaction with him or friends or anyone in the parking lot or myself, he was angry," Samantha Maness said of Hicks. "He was very angry, anytime I saw him."
Hicks' ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, said that before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was "Falling Down," the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a divorced unemployed engineer who goes on a shooting rampage. "That always freaked me out," Hurley said. "He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all," she said.
A probable cause hearing is scheduled for March 4. Police said Hicks was cooperating.
The Associated Press