CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — “This is a tragedy, a senseless tragedy that had international repercussions,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue says.
“We were dispatched to a call about shots fired, and our officers responded. That’s not a real common call.”
That evening, almost all of the police department showed up for the call.
“We realized we had something very serious and tragic and at that point, everyone goes,” Blue said.
“Those first few minutes when you realize the seriousness of what’s happened and you do not yet have a suspect, those are terrifying moments”
That suspect was Craig Hicks — a neighbor of the victims.
“We were looking for him,” according to Blue.
But on scene…family members were desperate to find out the fate of their children, Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor and her sister Razen Abu-Salha.
“Investigations take time. Even preliminary investigations take time and that’s certainly the case here. For a grieving family who’s waiting on information about a loved one and suspecting the worst, I so wish we could have gotten information to them more quickly,” Chief Blue said.
Hours later hicks turned himself in — and police released the first details of what they thought happened, not knowing it would lead to a fire storm.
“We knew there had been on-going neighbor disputes with Mr. Hicks and those have been volatile at times,” Blue said.
“Yes, we would do that differently now and that’s something you can only learn through experience,” he added.
Cries from the family made it clear…in their eyes…the shootings couldn’t have been anything but a hate crime.
“They’re frustrated to be honest that this is still depicted as an issue over parking — do you believe this is still an issue over parking?” WNCN asked Chief Blue a year after the 3 murders.
“Well I know what we said in that initial release is what we knew at the time as it was intended to be informational and to bring at least some preliminary understanding to why this might have happened. Certainly what we’ve learned since then is that what was intended to be informational… felt dismissive, presumptuous, and really insulting in some ways and that clearly not the intent. You learn an awful lot though experiences like that. What you say, how you say it and in a way that’s not necessarily in a way you intended,” Blue said.
The terrifying images from that night are something Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue says his officers will never forget.
“The horror of what you see and imagining what the victims experienced is something those responding officers will never…ever lose,” Blue said.
He says it’s a tragedy that will forever scar Chapel Hill.
But it’s also given his department a chance to grow their relationship with the Muslim community and others who have leaned on each other — to get them through.
“Those connections and networks have been strengthened and enhanced and continue to this day and beyond and if there is something we can take from this tragedy I think that’s certainly it,” Blue said.