— -- The man accused of shooting and killing three people near the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was studying to be a paralegal and had multiple run-ins with neighbors over parking, according to various media reports.
Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was arrested Tuesday after allegedly shooting newly married couple Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad and Mohammad’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All three were Muslim.
Police have said that the preliminary investigation suggests the killings stemmed from a dispute over parking, but the victims’ families and others have called for the crime to be investigated as a hate crime, which police say is part of their probe.
In a news conference his week, Hick's wife Karen Hicks said she did not think the crime was motivated by any bias against the victim’s backgrounds or beliefs.
Little is known about the alleged shooter, but his social media activity may help to fill in some of the blanks.
Craig Stephen Hicks identified himself on Facebook as an atheist and ridiculed different religions, including Christianity and Islam. He also put up a post in which he appeared to identify as an ally of the LGBTQ community.
He also posted a picture last month appearing to show his loaded hand gun. Hicks had a concealed weapons permit, according to the Associated Press.
Hicks posted a picture of himself in December with the description: “Modern me; same ugly, stupid, fat person with less hair now.”
Karen Hicks' lawyer, Robert Maitland, said the alleged shooter had long been focused on parking issues with multiple neighbors before the incident. Karen Hicks also told reporters she would be divorcing her husband.
While both a local and federal investigation is ongoing, it might be difficult for authorities to prove the killings were a hate crime, experts say.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explains that a hate crime is defined as a pre-existing crime that "has been motivated in whole or in part by a hatred of a particular group."
Potok notes that not all states cover the same groups, for example some states will not prosecute a hate crime based on sexual orientation, but under a 2009 law, the federal government can also investigate or prosecute a hate crime
Potok said it is generally dfficult to prove a hate crime, because motive and state of mind can often be murky things to get a handle on. Potok said, for example, if someone gets into a fistfight because he or she is angry over somethiing and then uses a racial slur, it may not mean they committed a hate crime.
Additionally, he points out, prosecutors may believe the evidence of a hate crime is not definitive enough.
“Then they could decide, ‘Look we have this guy on triple homicide. He’ll never get out of prison alive. We don’t have the evidence to prove the hate crime,’” Potok said.
Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and ordered held without bail. Attempts to contact his assigned public defender were not immediately successful. He has not entered a plea.