Editorial: Senseless Murders in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

April 3, 2015
Muslim Students Killed

Yusor Mohammad, Deah Shaddy Barakat and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

Multiple gunshots rang out on February 10, 2015, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was just past 5:00 PM, and the normally quiet town was filled with screams and panic. When the mayhem was over, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Deah Shaddy Barakat lay dead. About an hour later, their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself into the police and confessed.

Mr. Hicks lived in the same apartment complex as the victims. There was an ongoing parking dispute between Mr. Hicks and the victims. He regularly berated them for supposed violations of the parking rules. The victims had taken steps to appease Mr. Hicks and de-escalate the situation. However, Mr. Hicks had several recent stressors in his life. His wife was divorcing him, and his first wife was taking him to court for unpaid child support. Whether it was a result of Mr. Hicks’ own stresses or anger specifically directed toward the victims, his internal rage manifested in horrific violence.

We know who, where, and how, but we do not know why. Prosecutors must prove intent; however, they do not have to prove motive. Regardless, most people want to understand motive. People need to make sense of tragedy. The victims’ families in this case want to understand why their loved ones were taken from them.

Initial police reports indicate that the shootings were a result of a parking dispute. The ongoing disagreement was well known to friends and relatives of the victims. It was a constant source of tension for them whenever people visited. Apparently, on the day of the shooting, the victims’ cars were parked properly, which has prompted some to speculate that the shooting was not a result of the parking dispute.

There have been unsubstantiated claims that Mr. Hicks killed because of his hatred for Muslims. Since the shooter is white and the victims were Muslims, the murders could have been hate-motivated. Though at this time, there are no facts to support this conclusion. It is speculation. Yet to some extent, the parking dispute motive is also speculative, even though there are previous altercations to support this theory.

Absent an explanation by Mr. Hicks, motive cannot be known. However, does motive really matter? Mr. Hicks clearly had hatred in his heart when he savagely murdered three innocent people. Maybe he killed them over a parking space, out of hatred for Muslims, or a difference of opinion on the color of a dress. Regardless, none of these motives are logical or explain the taking of human life.

People want to understand and make sense of a senseless act. It is more comforting if things happen for a reason. Mr. Hicks can provide no explanation that will ease the anxiety and confusion over why such a terrible tragedy occurred. Mr. Hicks may not even be fully aware of why he snapped. It was most likely a confluence of factors, none of which justify or even begin to explain why.

Unfortunately, understanding why Mr. Hicks killed three innocent people provides almost no value and is unlikely to provide the closure the victims’ families so desperately need. Out of a desire to have answers, people will always want to know the motive, but the answer usually provides little clarity, just more questions.

*This post was written by John W. Taylor, Author of Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper and Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBenet Ramsey. To read more about John, visit his website at TrueCrimeWriting.com.

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