The man who allegedly killed three Muslim students Tuesday near the University of North Carolina had repeatedly harassed them by flashing a gun at them, according to the sister of one of the victims.
In a Friday morning appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Dr. Suzanne Barakat, whose 23-year-old brother Deah was killed allegedly by his 46-year-old neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, disputed the initial motive for the shooting laid out by Chapel Hill, North Carolina police.
The police said earlier this week that their preliminary investigation suggested Hicks was motivated by a long-running parking dispute with his Muslim neighbors. But Barakat said she had evidence that police may not have seen indicating that Hicks had a deeper problem with her brother and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, both of whom were shot dead.
“I think it’s absolutely insulting, insensitive and outrageous that the first thing they come out and say and issue a statement that this is a parking dispute,” Barakat said.
“I’m not sure who they spoke to, because it took me all of five minutes of talking to [Deah’s] former roommate, whom they had not reached out to, to give me details, information, text messages,” she said, adding that police hadn’t yet reached out to her family either.
Barakat said she believed Hicks, whose apparent Facebook page showed he had strong anti-religion beliefs and identified as an “anti-theist,” had been “harassing” the family since they first arrived at the apartment complex because the women wore headscarves. She said Hicks repeatedly confronted Deah and Yusor about a visitor’s parking spot he said belonged to his wife and often flashed a gun at them from under his shirt.
During one confrontation in which Hicks was armed, Deah texted a former roommate “this neighbor is bothering me” along with a photo to ask him to move his car from the disputed parking space, Barakat said. It’s unclear whether Barakat meant to say that the photo showed Hicks’ gun.
Barakat also pointed out that none of the victims were parked in the spot that Hicks claimed for his family on the day of the shooting.
“To call it a parking dispute when in fact no one was parked in even in that visitor’s parking spot that does not belong to him, is outrageous to me, and it’s insulting and it trivializes their murders,” she said.
It’s unclear whether Chapel Hill police have yet spoken with the Abu-Salha family for its investigation. Hicks was cooperating with the authorities, police said.
Both local authorities and the FBI were looking into whether the killings were a hate crime.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.