Chapel Hill murder suspect was banned from calling towing company
Posted February 12, 2015
Updated February 13, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The man accused of shooting three Muslims at a Chapel Hill condominium had neighbors' cars removed so often that he was eventually banned from using the towing company, according to a driver who often tows vehicles from the complex.
"It was often more than the average person," Christopher Lafreniere, with Barnes Towing, said Thursday. "It actually got to the point that he was not allowed to call a car in. If he called, we wouldn’t go out."
Neighbors have said Craig Stephen Hicks, charged with three counts of first-degree murder, always appeared to be combative and angry about the parking situation at Finley Forest, where residents are allotted one reserved spot.
Although they haven't ruled out other possible motives, police have said that they believe an ongoing parking dispute led the 46-year-old paralegal student to shoot his neighbors – Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 – early Tuesday evening.
Lafreniere, the driver who often towed cars from the complex, said Hicks called so much that it became a problem for the tow company.
"He didn’t like people parking in his space, and he was really, really adamant," Lafreniere said. "I didn’t understand why."
Lafreniere said Hicks was also involved in a towing incident that police responded to in December 2013.
In that case, Lafreniere and a driver were in a dispute, and Hicks, who had been watching from his window, came out with a handgun and said he had called police.
"He was always nice to all of us. Friendly," Lafreniere said. "He was very adamant about towing, though, and parking."
It wasn't the only problem, according to neighbors.
Imad Ahmad, who lived in the condo where his friends were killed until Barakat married, said Hicks complained about once a month that the two men were parking in a visitor's space and 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 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "He did it again after they got married."
Ahmad and his neighbors complained to the property managers, who had no comment Thursday.
"They told us to call the police if the guy came and harassed us again," Ahmad said.
"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. "He was very angry anytime I saw him."
Family members of the victims, however, say they believe anti-Muslim bias could have been a factor in the shootings.
Hicks, who on his Facebook page describes himself as a "gun-toting" atheist and Second Amendment rights advocate, often posted about organized religion.
The slain sisters' father, Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, said his older daughter had expressed concern to him about a neighbor of whom she was afraid.
"(She) felt that he was hateful and he did not like them, who they were and the way they looked," he said.
Hicks' wife, Karen Hicks, said at a news conference Wednesday, however, that her husband "champions the rights of others" and that the killings "had nothing do with religion or the victims' faith."
"This man was frustrated day in and day out about not being able to park where he wanted to," her attorney, Robert Maitland, said.
Hicks' ex-wife, Cynthia Hurley, told The Associated Press that, before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was "Falling Down," the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a divorced, unemployed engineer 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."
Police haven't said how Hicks allegedly entered the condominium, where the three students were found shot to death.
There were no visible signs Wednesday of damage to the door, affixed with orange stickers warning of biohazardous material inside. A wooden placard bearing Arabic script that translates to "Thanks to God" hung over their doorbell.