There is new evidence this morning that a shooting spree in Oklahoma may have been motivated by hate after one of the suspects was found to have posted racially charged comments on his Facebook page. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.
On Friday morning, the residents of Tulsa’s predominantly black north side woke to mayhem: Five people had been shot in their neighborhood, apparently at random. Three were dead. The shooters, they learned, were at large.
They feared leaving their homes and worried they couldn’t make it to church on Easter Sunday. Witnesses hesitated to call police, anxious they would be called snitches.
Tulsa police Maj. Walter Evans was charged with forming a task force to track down the shooters. He appealed to the press, asking them to spread the word that the police department had opened a Crime Stoppers tip line. Nearly 40 tips came in.
“In my 23 years I’ve never seen a crime as heinous as this, but I’ve also never seen such an outpouring of support from the community,” Evans said later.
Police learned of a young man named Jake England, a 19-year-old whose father had been killed two years before, almost to the day. Carl England had been shot by an African-American man during a scuffle, and England, it appeared from a posting Thursday on his Facebook wall, had an ax to grind.
“Today is two years that my dad has been gone shot by a f------ n----- it's hard not to go off between that and sheran I'm gone in the head,” he wrote, according to the Tulsa World.
Sheran was Sheran Hart Wilde, England’s fiancée, who killed herself in January. Susan Sevenstar, an England family friend, told the Associated Press that the couple had an infant and that England wasn’t in his right mind.
His roommate, a 32-year-old man named Alvin Lee Watts who liked to take shirtless photos of himself, replied to England's post: “I kno i miss them 2. My last meomeries were great ones of them. Its nt goodbye its c u later.” Watts was recently single, according to his posts on the social network site, and frustrated by people he described as “haterz.”
Watts, it appeared on Facebook, had supported England as he grieved. In one post, Watts wrote, “Me n my bro jake jus chill’in. jake putting lil jake 2 sleep. Watch’in country videos.”
On Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday, police allege that the two men hit the streets of north Tulsa in a white Chevrolet pickup with a loud exhaust. Witnesses told police that a white man in the truck stopped pedestrians for directions and then shot them in the back as they walked away. It is unclear who pulled the trigger.
Their victims, identified as Dannaer Fields, 49, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31, were black.
That night, England returned to Facebook: “Chilling at that house people talking s--- on me for some s--- I didn't do ... it just mite be the time to call it quits I I hate to say it like that but I'm done if something does happen tonite be ready for another funeral later.”
By Saturday afternoon, the police were desperate for leads. They asked the press to spread the word that they were opening a Crime Stoppers hot line. Within two hours, the tips flooded in. Maj. Evans set up Operation Random Shooter.
They recovered a weapon and found England’s burned pickup 10 miles from his home. Within hours, one tipster pointed them to the suspects.
Tulsa police Chief Chuck Jordan said a helicopter tracked them to a house in Turley, Okla., a city of 3,000 people north of Tulsa, where they were arrested. They are being held on three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.
When Council Member Jack Henderson, who represents north Tulsa, got the call about their arrests, he dropped to his knees to pray. “Thank God,” he said. He said he believes the police department has proved itself to the black community, and that his constituents may start coming forward with tips to solve dormant cases.
Neither Watts or England has previously been convicted of a serious crime. Court records show that Watts was charged in 2009 with aggravated assault and battery, but those charges were dismissed. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for domestic violence. He paid a $649.90 court fine.
England has been charged once, for driving with a suspended license.
Now the investigation turns to whether Watts and England should be charged with hate crimes.
“If we did have a case, if someone was obviously engaged in a hate crime, we need to show the community that’s what we charge them for,” Chief Jordan said.
But Sevenstar, the England family friend, insisted to the AP that this was not a hate crime, adding that England was Cherokee Indian.
"He didn't care what your color was,” she said. “It wasn't a racist thing.”
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