CHAPEL HILL — Chahnaz Kebaier, the woman shot outside a Chapel Hill elementary school Friday, had asked a friend to pray for her as she separated from the man now accused of killing her.
“ ‘This man is going to kill me.’ She always said that,” said Jude Uzonna, an associate professor in the department of immunology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, said Sunday.
Kebaier worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania when Uzonna was a research associate there in 2004. He said he talked with Kebaier recently about her troubles.
“She was very nice and could go out of her own way to do things for people to her own detriment,” Uzonna said.
Ali Cherfaoui, 49, whose address is listed as N.C. 54, Carrboro, is charged with murder after police say he shot Kebaier multiple times in the pick-up lane outside Mary Scroggs Elementary in the Southern Village community. The shooting happened at 2 p.m., about 30 minutes before school ended, on or near the sidewalk close to classrooms. Students heard the shots.
Cherfaoui and Kebaier, 40, were involved in a domestic dispute.
A guardian ad litem had been appointed for two children, which the legislature made an option several years ago in child-custody cases, said Chief District Judge Joe Buckner.
Buckner said another judge signed the order for the private guardian ad litem and said he did not know if the couple was legally married. He said they had a Chapter 50 action pending – a section of state law that includes divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support and visitation. They had tried mediation, the judge added, but it did not resolve their dispute.
The children, ages 4 and 5 years old, are now in the custody of the Orange County Department of Social Services because Kebaier had no relatives here, Buckner said. He has frozen Cherfaoui’s assets, which he said is routine when there is concern about child support, a possible wrongful-death action or foreign parties.
“You don’t want the money to be pushed offshore,” he said.
Buckner said he has been told Kebaier’s parents are coming from Tunisia to seek custody of the children.
Sunday evening a klezmer band played on the Southern Village green. Families filled lawn chairs just a few minutes’ walk from where flowers and cards outside the neighborhood school gave the only clues to Friday’s shooting.
Daises, red roses, purple tulips and other flowers filled vases or lay on the ground outside the school entrance. A woman got out of a car and added a note to the memorial. A man in a black T-shirt strode by.
“You were a very nice mommy,” a child’s note said in crayon. “I know you will always be in our hearts.”
Buckner said he was told that Kebaier, who lived on Copperline Drive, a few blocks from the school, had gone to pick up her children when she was shot.
She was shot in the head and body, according to police and died from her injuries two hours later, according to Chapel Hill police. Cherfaoui is scheduled to make a first appearance in court Tuesday in Hillsborough.
Dr. Laurence Buxbaum, assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, said Kebaier’s research included parasite immunology and described her as very mild-mannered.
“It’s shocking and very sad to think that it ends this way,” Buxbaum said.