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The world is focused on Chapel Hill, North Carolina, today after the murder of three Muslim college students, all three shot in the head at an apartment complex near the UNC campus Tuesday. Craig Hicks, 46, was charged by Chapel Hill police with three counts of first-degree murder.

Kellette Wade, a 2005 graduate of Lee County High School in Sanford and a former UNC student, lives three buildings away in the condominium complex where the murders took place. The first call to authorities came at 5:11 p.m. on Tuesday, and Wade and his daughter drove into their neighborhood after a parent/teacher conference approximately 20 minutes later. Much of the road was closed off, and the scene was littered with police cars, a remaining ambulance and a fire truck when he arrived.

Three Killed North Carolina
Murder suspect Craig Hicks

“I did not see anything, but a neighbor of mine was standing outside when my daughter and I arrived home and I asked him if he had heard anything,” Wade said. “He said he was watching TV on his couch and heard a pop and immediately thought it was construction in the area. Then he heard more pops and knew it was a gun shot. He got up to look outside and said the cops were there within minutes.”

Murdered were Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21 and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19. Police said in a statement Wednesday that a dispute over parking may have led to the shooting. The victims’ age and religion, the brutality of the murder and  reports that Hicks has publicly denounced religion over social media in the past, have led to the viral nature of the story. A Washington Post headline reads, “Killing of 3 in Chapel Hill stirs alarm among Muslims.”

Wade says he didn’t know the three victims or the suspect personally, though he had seen Yuso and Razan walking the neighborhood multiple times in recent weeks. Another neighbor told Wade he believed Hicks and the victims had had prior confrontations before Tuesday.

Wade posted a link to the story on his own Facebook page today, calling the incident “tragic and heartbreaking.”

“This is extremely heartbreaking for those young individuals whose lives were taken far too soon, for their family and friends, and for all of the lives they had helped and were poised to further impact in such a meaningful way,” he said. “This is terrifying to me because of what it implies about our culture. Motives have not been confirmed, but from what has been reported regarding the suspects Facebook page, this appears to be motivated due to the victim’s religious beliefs and/or race. We’re increasingly polarized, and there are parties on all sides that constantly attempt to stoke animosity and infighting.”

He added that it’s more terrifying to turn on the news and see various international media outlets covering an event that happened near his home.

“The gravity of our policies, our leaders’ words and actions, celebrity opinions, talk radio, etc. are all infinitesimally more internalized for me, now,” he said. “I have always cared and paid attention, but it is much different when you witness first hand such brutal acts against completely innocent people.”

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