Jorge Valencia

Capitol Reporter

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun. On Twitter: @jorgeavalencia.

Ways To Connect

creative commons

An atheist group filed a federal lawsuit to compel the North Carolina Department of Corrections to make space available for group studies by atheists in the same way it does for religious inmates.
 

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, was brought by Kwame Teague, an inmate being held for life on a 1996 first-degree murder conviction. Teague has requested space for a study group since 2012.

Chad Biggs (left), 35, and Chris Creech, 46, were the first gay couple to be wed in Wake County.
Jorge Valencia

The North Carolina Senate approved on Wednesday a plan to allow magistrate judges who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds to refuse to preside over any wedding.

The proposed legislation, which passed on a mostly party-line 82 to 16 vote, is a direct response to federal court rulings in October of 2014 that struck down North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex unions.   

Shana Carignan (left) and Megan Parker with Jax
North Carolina ACLU

A North Carolina legislative panel has approved a Republican plan that would allow magistrate judges to recuse themselves from officiating any weddings if they have a faith-based opposition to same-sex unions.

The bill, introduced by Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), was passed on what appeared to be a mostly party-line vote in a Senate Judiciary Committee this morning.

Unemployment lines
Wikimedia

The North Carolina Senate has approved a proposal that would change a panel that hears appeals for unemployment insurance, but Governor Pat McCrory vetoed a similar bill last year.

The plan would shorten the amount of time board members serve on the panel and stagger the terms between each member. It would also require people getting unemployment benefits to contact five instead of three potential employers every week.

Photo: Mohammed Elgamal, chairman of the Islamic Association of Raleigh, and leaders from national Muslim advocacy organizations.
Jorge Valencia

When three young Muslim people were killed in a Chapel Hill apartment last week, their families, friends and advocates from around the world said they knew why: Their neighbor shot them because he hated their religion.

Chapel Hill police didn’t deny that claim, but didn’t validate it either. Within a day of the shooting, authorities said the neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, had been disgruntled over a parking space.

As it turns out, there are wide discrepancies between establishing a hate crime in a court room and a hate crime in the court of public opinion.

In North Carolina, three Muslim students who were shot in their home have been buried.

The sky was gray over North Carolina State University as more than 5,000 people prayed for Deah Barakat, his wife Youser Abu-Salha and Youser's sister Razan.

Usman Rahim attended the service. He says that the victims touched people far beyond the Muslim community.

"The wide variety of people that these three angels touched, it's just such a meaningful, deep and sorrow - yet joyful - day for the three of them," Rahim said.

The UNC Chapel Hill vigil for three slain students. UNC Dental School students are in the center of the image. 2/11/15
Eric Hodge

People in Chapel Hill and across the Triangle are grieving. Last night was the first public gathering to honor the three Muslim students who were shot and killed this week. Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha. Their neighbor has been charged with their murders.

wunc's Reema Khrais attended the vigil and filed this report for NPR:

'Our Three Winners' Facebook page

Forty-six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the killings of Deah Barakat, a second-year student in the UNC School of Dentistry and his wife, Yusor, who had planned to begin her dental studies at UNC in the fall. Yusor's sister, Razan, a student at NC State University, was also killed. We will continue to update this story as information becomes available.

Updated Monday, February 23, 10:15 a.m.

AtlantaMuslim.com has created a map of vigils and gatherings related to the shootings and the hashtag #OurThreeWinners

Updated Thursday, February 19 10:30 a.m.

President Obama includes the Chapel Hill shootings in an address at the White House during a summit on violent extremist. Here's a video of the full address:

Updated Thursday, February 19 7:00 a.m.

Much of the discussion about the motive behind the Chapel Hill shooting is whether it was a hate crime. Many in the Muslim community and on social media say it is, but police have not. Jorge Valencia filed this report today about the decision the police face, and the intricacies of a legal hate crime designation.

Updated Monday February 16 5:10 p.m.

A grand jury has indicted Craig Stephen Hicks in the murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, reports Jorge Valencia. Hicks turned himself into authorities last week, just hours after the shooting of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha. Now a grand jury believes there's enough evidence to pursue a felony case against Hicks. He's charged with first-degree murder and discharging a firearm into a dwelling. Chapel Hill police are still investigating and say Hicks may have been motivated by a parking dispute. Family and advocates around the world say Hicks was acting out of a bias against Muslims. 

Updated Monday February 16 10:50 a.m.

Qatar students and community hold solidarity walk for Chapel Hill victims. The march was Sunday and began at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Read more about this march

Hear Phoebe Judge's conversation with a BBC news analyst about the Qatar march

Update Friday February 13 3 p.m.

The White House issued a statement by the President:

"Yesterday, the FBI opened an inquiry into the brutal and outrageous murders of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated.  No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.  Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims’ loved ones.  As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family.  Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives – and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours."

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said recently.  “It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions – but here, we’re all one.”

Thursday evening, the FBI announced it is looking into the murders. In a statement, the FBI said it has opened a "parallel preliminary inquiry". They're looking to determine if federal laws were violated. Agents will assist local police to process evidence from the triple-homicide.

Update Thursday February 12 2:58 p.m.

Frank Stasio joined Dr. Omid Safi, director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center to talk about the events on the nationally syndicated program, The Takeaway. Listen to the audio here.

"If these acts happen in your community, then they are a part of your community, they are a part of your legacy." - Dr. Omid Safi

Update Thursday February 12 11:48 a.m.

The Islamic Association of Raleigh will lead funeral prayers for the three shooting victims today. The funeral prayer will follow the midday prayer at 1:35. NC State University will host a vigil at the Brickyard tonight at 6.

Update Thursday February 12 11:13 a.m.

Update Thursday February 12 10:49 a.m.

One of the victims of the shooting, Yusor Abu-Salha, came to the StoryCorps Mobile Booth when it visited Durham, NC last summer.  >> Listen

Update 8:51 a.m. Thursday Feb 12

Hundreds of people gathered at UNC Chapel Hill last night to remember the three Muslims killed in a nearby shooting, and to support their families.

Farris Barakat is the older brother of victim Deah Barakat. He spoke of the three at the vigil last night. He asked the big crowd to live in their legacy.

"That you share the good that you know of them, and take the message that my mom wanted to make public and 'do not fight fire with fire," Barakat said.

>>WUNC's Jorge Valencia and Reema Khrais both attended the event. Here are their reports.

Update Wednesday February 11 8:44 p.m.

Update Wednesday February 11 8:11 p.m.

"You can't see where the crowd ends" at the vigil to honor the three slain students, reports Jorge Valencia.

Update Wednesday February 11 6:00 p.m.

There is a vigil this evening at 6:30 p.m. at the UNC "Pit." Prior to the vigil, at 6 p.m., a prayer service will be held in the Great Hall of the Carolina Union. Parking will be available in the Bell Tower lot.

Update Wednesday February 11 5:31 p.m.

Nada Salem was best friends with the two young women who died. The 21-year-old Muslim woman told reporter Reema Khrais that she strongly believes the crime was motivated by hate.

Salem points to something that happened a few months ago. She had gone over to the couple's house for dinner.

After she went home, her friend Yusor texted to say that their neighbor, Hicks, had come by, complaining that that young people had been "really loud and disrespectful."

And then, Yusor texted, Hicks "pointed to his gun and his pocket and he said 'I don't want this to happen again.'"

Salem had plans to attend UNC School of Dentistry with Yusor. She says not too long ago the couple gave her her first Carolina Dentistry sweater. The two women wanted to wear the sweaters to school at the same time.

"So that we can be matching and we can tell everyone we got in together; and two days ago she texted me again with [the sweater] picture saying that she can't wait for us to start again…together at dental school," says Salem. "It's like a daze for me, personally, I just don't want to believe it."

Illustration: Cadeceus
Flickr user takomabibelot

Roughly 480,000 people in North Carolina have signed up or been automatically re-enrolled for Obamacare plans by the end of January using the healthcare.gov system, according to government data released Friday. Almost 7.5 million in total have signed up across the country.

WUNC's Capitol Reporter Jorge Valencia was at Governor McCrory's State of the State speech Wednesday. He live-tweeted the proceedings:

Pages