Homicide

Suspect in Muslim college students' killings faces victims' relatives in court

Craig Hicks, center, with his attorneys in court.

Craig Hicks, center, with his attorneys in court.  (Chris Seward/The News & Observer via AP)

Craig Hicks, the North Carolina man accused of shooting and killing three Muslim college students at an apartment complex in Chapel Hill, faced the victims' relatives in court for the first time in two years. 

Students Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha were killed in February 2015. 

At a hearing on Tuesday Farris Barakat, Deah Barakat’s brother, told The Associated Press Hicks appeared “smug” during past court appearances. However, Barakat says seeing Hicks has helped him with his anger over the loss of his brother. 

"When you see another human being, you become more merciful," he said. "You become less angry."

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Hicks motive has not been established, but relatives tell The Associated Press they believe the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith. Police are also looking at an argument over a parking space.  

According to search warrants, on the evening of February 5, 2015 police responded to a 911 call of shots being fired at an apartment complex. When they arrived on scene they found a male with a gunshot wound to the head, one female in the kitchen and the other in the doorway. They were declared dead at the scene.

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Hicks is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. No federal charges have been brought against Hicks, but the FBI is investigating whether the murders were a hate crime. The search warrant application mentions Hicks' Facebook page, listing images of a firearm and an affiliation with atheism as evidence related to a possible motive.

Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says he believes there was a bias with this case. “We believe that if the victims had not been wearing headscarves, had they not been Muslim, that this incident would not have occurred,” Hooper said.

Hooper told Fox News he and other members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations were very active in the initial reaction to the murders. Hooper says he hopes Hicks is brought to justice to the fullest extent of the law.

No trial date has been scheduled. 

Barakat was a University of North Carolina School of Dentistry student; Abu-Salha was accepted into the same school and set to start in the fall of 2015. Razan Abu-Salha was a sophomore at North Carolina State University College of Design.

Tiffany Brannan, the Director of Communications for the UNC School of Dentistry, says Barakat was a very involved student as class officer and co-president of the school’s student ambassador program.  

“Deah was a friend to everyone he met in this school,” Brannan said. “He was a source of laughter for his classmates and he had a smile for every person he passed in the halls.” 

The school holds an annual day of service every year for Barakat and Abu-Salha. 

“Even though it’s been two years, we all still deeply feel Deah’s absence,” Brannan told Fox News. “As a school we strive to continue his spirit of service and giving back, and have adopted a mantra of 'Live like Deah.'”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Terace Garnier is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Columbia, South Carolina. Follow her on twitter: @TeraceGarnier