Shooting suspect slams religion while defending liberty

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unc college kids - updated 2/15/2015 -- leading with video
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Shooting suspect slams religion while defending liberty
Many are speculating the Chapel Hill victims' religion may have played a role in the incident.
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 11: Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, sits in the Durham County courtroom for his first appearance in the shooting deaths of three University of North Carolina students on February 11, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. Hicks has been charged with three counts of first degree murder and is being held without bond. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 11: Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, enters the Durham County courtroom for his first appearance in the shooting deaths of three University of North Carolina students on February 11, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. Hicks has been charged with three counts of first degree murder and is being held without bond. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: A picture of slain Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, is seen at a makeshift memorial during a vigil at Dupont Circle in Washington,USA on February 12, 2015. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Muhammed Bilal Kenasari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A makeshift memorial is made during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the February 10, 2015 slayings in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide. Police investigating the murders said they were studying whether the fatal shootings were religiously motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A candlelight vigil for murder victims Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha's sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Chapel Hill, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks is accused of shooting the three students on Tuesday. (Al Drago/The News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
This image provided by the Durham County Sheriff's Office shows a booking photo of Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who was arrested on three counts of murder early Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. He is being held at the Durham County Jail. Police were responding to a report of gunshots around 5:15 p.m. Tuesday when they found three people who were pronounced dead at the scene. The dead were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, of Chapel Hill; Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. (AP Photo/Durham County Sheriff's Office)
People stand before a makeshift memorial after a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the February 10, 2015 slayings in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide. Police investigating the murders said they were studying whether the fatal shootings were religiously motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Dentistry students and others huddle together during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the February 10, 2015 slayings in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide. Police investigating the murders said they were studying whether the fatal shootings were religiously motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of a shooting scene at a condominium complex near Summerwalk Circle February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Police probing the murder of three Muslim students by a North Carolina man said Wednesday they were studying whether the slayings were racially motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the February 10 shootings in the university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide. Police emphasized that initial investigations indicated a dispute between Hicks and his victims over parking spaces may have been the catalyst for a shooting spree which claimed the lives of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Namee Barakat, father of Deah Shaddy Barakat(Back to camera), and his wife Leila Barakat leave after a press conference at Swift Creek Community Center February 11, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Police probing the murder of three Muslim students by a North Carolina man said Wednesday they were studying whether the slayings were racially motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the February 10 shootings in the university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide. Police emphasized that initial investigations indicated a dispute between Hicks and his victims over parking spaces may have been the catalyst for a shooting spree which claimed the lives of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
This image provided by the Durham County Sheriff's Office shows a booking photo of Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, who was arrested on three counts of murder early Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. He is being held at the Durham County Jail. Police were responding to a report of gunshots around 5:15 p.m. Tuesday when they found three people who were pronounced dead at the scene. The dead were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, of Chapel Hill; Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. (AP Photo/Durham County Sheriff's Office)
Namee Barakat hugs his wife Layla during a news conference in Raleigh, N.C., about the death of his son, Deah, his daughter-in-law and her sister on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Barakat said the death penalty “would not be enough” for Craig Hicks, the man charged with murdering the three Muslim students. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
Loved ones speak during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after the February 10, 2015 slayings in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill which sparked outrage amongst Muslims worldwide. Police investigating the murders said they were studying whether the fatal shootings were religiously motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Several of the concrete bumpers at Building 20 in the Finley Forest apartment and condominium complex are marked 'reserved' on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Chapel Hill, N.C. The building was the scene Tuesday of a triple homicide in which resident Craig Stephen Hicks is accused in the shooting deaths of three students, two of whom lived adjacent to Hicks, possibly over an ongoing parking dispute. (Harry Lynch/The News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
A woman cries as she watches photos projected on a large screen of murder victims Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha's sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Chapel Hill, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks is accused of shooting the three students on Tuesday. (Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: People hold a vigil at Dupont Circle in Washington on February 12, 2015 for three Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Muhammed Bilal Kenasari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: People hold a vigil at Dupont Circle in Washington on February 12, 2015 for three Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Muhammed Bilal Kenasari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Palestinian protester holds a poster showing three young Muslims who were killed in the US during a protest by Palestinians against terrorism on February 13, 2015 before a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Bilin, west of Ramallah. Deah Shaddy Barakat (L on the poster), his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were recently killed in North Carolina in the US. AFP PHOTO/ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, USA - February 12: People pray at the beginning of a vigil for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, USA on February 12, 2015. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, USA - February 12: Friends and family members pray at a vigil for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, USA on February 12, 2015. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: A man holds a placard during a vigil at Dupont Circle in Washington on February 12, 2015 for three Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Muhammed Bilal Kenasari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man holds a placard during a vigil for three young Muslims killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at Dupont Circle on February 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. The three were killed by a neighbour in what police said was a dispute over parking and possibly a hate crime. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A young Muslim girl holds a candlelight during a vigil at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles on February 12, 2015 for the three Muslim students who were fatally shot in North Carolina. The families of three Muslim students shot dead by a white neighbor have reiterated calls for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Ture Nkrumah attends a vigil held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Dupont Circle February 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. The vigil was held to honor three young Muslim students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were recently shot to death in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Supporters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations hold a vigil in Dupont Circle February 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. The vigil was held to honor three young Muslim students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were recently shot to death in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Kheira Benkreira (L) and Hasnia Bekkadja (R) attend a vigil held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Dupont Circle February 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. The vigil was held to honor three young Muslim students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were recently shot to death in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12 : Mourners and people from the Islamic Association of Raleigh attend a service at a nearby soccer field February 12, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Community members and loved ones gathered to mourn the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were shot Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12 : Mourners and people from the Islamic Association of Raleigh attend a service at a nearby soccer field February 12, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Community members and loved ones gathered to mourn the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were shot Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12 : Mourners and people from the Islamic Association of Raleigh attend a service at a nearby soccer field February 12, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Community members and loved ones gathered to mourn the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha who were shot Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 12: People hold a vigil at Dupont Circle in Washington on February 12, 2015 for three Muslim students who were shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Muslim students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead at their home on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Muhammed Bilal Kenasari/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- If his Facebook page is any indication, Craig Hicks doesn't hate Muslims. An avowed atheist, his online posts instead depict a man who despises religion itself, but nevertheless seems to support an individual's right to his own beliefs.

"I hate Islam just as much as christianity, but they have the right to worship in this country just as much as any others do," the man now accused of killing three Muslim college students stated in one 2012 post over the proposed construction of a mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York.

Days after the shooting deaths of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, a nuanced and sometimes contradictory portrait is emerging of the man charged in their slayings.

EARLIER: Saudi Arabia condemns 'terrorist' killing of US Muslims

Police in Chapel Hill said they have yet to uncover any evidence that Hicks, 46, allegedly acted out of religious animus, though they are investigating the possibility. As a potential motive, they cited a dispute over parking spaces at the condo community where Hicks and two of the victims lived.

Hicks' court-appointed lawyer, Stephen Freedman, said he could not comment on the case. Hicks was being held without bond.

In often publicly posted Facebook rants, Hicks was brazen about his disdain for all faiths. In one post regarding specific texts from the Quran, the Jewish Talmud and the Bible about battling nonbelievers, he wrote: "I wish they would exterminate each other!"

But he was just as passionate about personal freedom and liberty - championing an individual's right to worship or not worship, legal abortion and gay marriage and, perhaps most fervently, the right to own and bear arms. If he has a creed, it's the Second Amendment.

"I guess after the horrible tragedy early this week in Arizona, all Glock pistols will officially be labeled `assault weapons,'" he wrote following the January 2011 assassination attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. "While I never cared for Glocks personally, it stinks that anyone would blame a firearm rather than the operator of such firearm for such a terrible act. I think I'll start blaming McDonalds for my weight problem, Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan, and Islam for terrorism."

One post included a photo of a revolver and the warning: "If you are anti-gun, defriend me NOW!!!"

Search warrants filed in court Friday listed a dozen firearms taken from Hicks' condo unit, including four handguns, two shotguns and six rifles - one a military-style AR-15 carbine - and a large cache of ammunition. That's in addition to a pistol the suspect had with him when he turned himself in.

Hicks' 20-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Sarah Hurley, told The Associated Press that she shut him out of her life permanently years ago "for not only disrespecting the religious beliefs of others but bashing them on social media." She verified that the Facebook page the AP reviewed was Hicks', whom she refuses to even call "father."

He and Cynthia Hurley, who lives outside of Raleigh, were divorced about 17 years ago. She told the AP that back then, Hicks' favorite movie was "Falling Down," the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a laid-off engineer who goes on a shooting rampage.

She described a man who showed her no compassion, but didn't recall him having any particular animosity toward Islam or other religions. Of Christianity, she said, "He went there and did that and chose not to."

"Even after we divorced, we prayed for him every day," said Hurley.

An Illinois native, Hicks moved to North Carolina in 2005. He married again several years later, and he and new wife Karen set up house in her two-bedroom condo in the quiet Finley Forest neighborhood of Chapel Hill. Online, he called Karen "my better half" and "the most wonderful woman in the world, she puts up with me."

"I am very lucky," he told one Facebook friend. "She's incredibly smart also, but she must have a couple wires crossed somewhere to be with me!"

In a news conference after her husband's arrest, Karen Hicks claimed to be as baffled as anyone about how a man who loves the Pittsburgh Steelers, the United States Constitution and dogs - especially his own black and brown mutt, Rocky - could have done something so vicious. She was adamant that the shootings stemmed from a long-simmering dispute over parking at their condo complex, not the victims' faith.

"We were married for seven years, and that is one thing that I do know about him," she said, lips quivering and hands trembling. "He just believed ... everyone is equal. It doesn't matter what you look like or who you are or what you believe."

Her lawyer said divorce proceedings are now underway.

Hicks had worked in auto parts sales for two decades but was studying full time in a paralegal technology program at Durham Technical Community College. He was working on multiple certifications and taking 12 credit hours this semester, said spokeswoman Carver Weaver, who described Hicks as a "diligent student" who "helped other students frequently."

"Sat in the front row. Participated in class. ... He hasn't had any conflicts with students or instructors or any complaints about his behavior."

Hicks was on the president's list, the school's equivalent of the dean's list, Weaver said. He was scheduled to graduate this spring.

Four years ago, while working at a local Harris Teeter grocery store, Hicks was presented with a leadership award for being "an asset to our produce and deli/bakery departments."

"His great attitude and willingness to help in all areas of the store have contributed to a positive environment for our customers as well as our associates," read the yellow certificate, which Hicks posted on Facebook. It went on to list his hobbies: hiking, nature, history, motorcycling and target shooting.

"His primary interest is in dogs. He has volunteered at several animal shelters across the country."

But such descriptions stand in stark contrast to the vitriol Hicks espoused online.

It is unclear when Hicks formed his atheist beliefs. He told his Facebook friends that it came from studying the Christian Bible and other religious texts, and he quoted everyone from Adolf Hitler and John F. Kennedy to pop icon Elton John to make his point.

Beside a graphic asking the question, "Why don't you believe in God?" he wrote: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

He railed repeatedly against the "fundies" - fundamentalists - and the need to protect the separation of church and state. Alongside an e-card that asked whether the Bible or Quran should be used as the basis for U.S. laws, he wrote: "Remember, neither is more credible."

"I don't want to dispute ones beliefs, unless they try and push such beliefs onto me or another," he wrote.

Next to a graphic on the Mormon church, in which 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney was a bishop, he wrote: "One of these might be our president, says volumes about this country." (He later noted that he planned to vote Democrat, largely because of the party's more open stance on gay rights issues.)

He made few overt references specifically to Islam.

In the past couple of years, much of Hicks' disgust was directed at his neighbors in Finley Forest.

Several people have said Hicks would show up at their door, gun on hip, to complain that their music was too loud or that they or a visitor had parked in someone else's spot. He complained so often that the towing company servicing the development banned him from calling.

That didn't stop the confrontations.

According to neighbor Shadi Wehbe, one of the women from the Barakat household came to his door about two weeks ago and asked if he could move his car.

"She said the reason was because someone had left a very nasty note on hers, telling her that she needed to move hers," he said. "It seemed like it kind of rattled her."

One of the victim's fathers, Namee Barakat, told the AP that Hicks also had visited his son's condo previously, flashing his gun as he demanded they stop using visitors' parking spots.

On Monday, Hicks posted a precious video link with his Facebook friends. The clip showed a dachshund puppy, repeatedly dinging a small silver bell with its paw to receive a treat.

"A different take on Pavlov!" he wrote, referring to the famous psychological experiment. "The cutest thing you have seen all day!!"

It was his last post. The following day, according to police, Hicks walked around to the backside of his condo building, entered his neighbors' home and, their friends and family believe, made martyrs of the three young Muslims.

---

Associated Press reporters Jonathan Drew and Emery Dalesio contributed to this report.

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