CHAPEL HILL - Friday’s shooting that left a woman dead and two children without a mother was the climax of a heated domestic dispute and legal battle over custody and child support.
Ali Cherfaoui, 49, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of his estranged wife, Chahnaz Kebaier, as she tried to pick up the couple’s two children at Mary Scroggs Elementary School in Chapel Hill just before school let out for the Memorial Day weekend. She died at UNC Hospitals just after 4 p.m., two hours after being shot.
On Tuesday, District Court Judge Beverly Scarlett barred Cherfaoui from having any contact with his children or Kebaier’s relatives, who are said to be flying in to seek custody of the children.
He answered yes, when asked if understood the charges against him and his right to remain silent.
Cherfaoui was represented by Public Defender James E. Williams Jr., who said Cherfaoui cannot afford a private attorney.
The case will likely go before a grand jury June 4, said Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall. Alleged abuse
According to court records and affidavits from relatives and daycare workers, Cherfaoui threatened to kill Kebaier if she took their children away from him.
The two were married Aug. 28, 2005, and separated June 15, 2011, according to court records. Their official separation began the same day a domestic violence protection Kebaier had sought became official.
The order was signed by Scarlett on June 7, 2011, the same day police responded to a call in the parking lot of KinderCare on Elliott Road in Chapel Hill.
Two KinderCare employees filed affidavits recounting Cherfaoui’s aggressive behavior.
In one affidavit, Emily Hord, the school administrator, said Cherfaoui routinely asked her and other employees to meet him at his home on evenings and weekends with his and Kebaier’s children, so that they could have dinner together. He also asked Hord to come to his house and bathe his daughter, after she had urinated on herself when Kebaier was not home, according to the affidavit.
Hord said she always declined because his requests were inappropriate.
Hord recounted the dispute on June 7, 2011, when she called police after Cherfaoui tried to stop Kebaier from picking up their children, blocking Kebaier’s car in the parking lot with his car, as she tried to leave with the children.
Cherfaoui got out of his car and “exhibited confrontational body language,” she wrote. “Ms. Kebaier’s body language was shrunken and her eyes pointed toward the ground.”
The children stood between the pair as they argued and eventually Hord took them back inside and called 911, Hord wrote. Police arrived, serving Cherfaoui with the protection order and removing him from the campus, Hord said.
Bernice Starks, school director for KinderCare affirmed Hord’s statements in a separate affidavit.
The children, ages 4 and 5, attended KinderCare for two years until last year when they started attending Scroggs Elementary in Southern Village, according to court filings.
The order restricted contact between Cherfaoui and his family and prohibited him from having, using or buying a firearm, according to court records. It was to be effective until June 15, 2012.“Willing to be a martyr”
The parking lot incident wasn’t the only altercation between the two on June 7.
According to the protection order, the same day Cherfaoui confronted Kebaier in the KinderCare parking lot, he locked her in their Baity Hill Drive apartment; grabbed her purse as she tried to leave, leaving a mark on her arm; and chased her.
She called 911. Police took an incident report. After police left, Cherfaoui called Kebaier’s mother and threatened to kill Kebaier, according to the motion. He also said “he would be willing to die as a martyr for his children,” according to the motion.
Kebaier’s mother, Abdallah Kebaier, filed a separate affidavit in the case, attesting to her daughter’s care as a mother.
Abdallah Kebaier, who lives in Tunis, Tunisia, visited the family from July 18 to Sept. 20, 2011.
“I continue to be impressed with her ability to provide for them in every way in the midst of dealing with a difficult separation and continuing to work full time,” Abdallah Kebaier wrote. “Chahnaz shields the children from the legal proceeding and tries to keep life for them as normal as possible.”
Kebaier also sought child support from Cherfaoui. A judge ordered him to pay $2,850 from July 15 to March 15, 2012, in $300 payments each month, according to court filings. Cherfaoui filed a motion to get alimony from Kebaier to help support their children, since he was unemployed and only took in about $497 each month from interest on money market accounts, according to court filings.
In September 2011, Judge Lunsford Long signed a temporary custody order granting both parents joint custody of their children, but restricting Cherfaoui’s visits to two hours at a time, three days during the week. Cherfaoui was also allowed on overnight visits with the children on the weekends. The couple were to exchange the kids at the Chapel Hill Police Department, according to the order.
Cherfaoui is a citizen of Algeria, but has lived in the United States for 20 years, according to court records. Kebaier worked at UNC-Chapel Hill as a health researcher and was also a citizen of Tunisia. She had lived in the United States for the last 10 years, according to court records.
A guardian ad litem has been appointed for the two children, and a judge has frozen Cherfaoui’s assets which is often done in cases involving child support or possible wrongful death actions. Students return
Students returned to Scroggs Elementary School Tuesday morning with a message that school is safe despite the fatal shooting.
Attendance was normal – 48 absences among 618 students, school system spokeswoman Stephanie Knott said. About 25 students, staff and parents sought counseling throughout the day.
School staff members worked with trauma specialists over the holiday weekend who advised them “it is most important that we return to a normal routine,” Principal Litwak told parents in an email Monday night. Staff writer Mark Schultz contributed to this article.