OKLAHOMA CITY, (Reuters) – Police acting on a tip arrested two white men today for the shootings of five black victims, three of whom died, in a spree that rattled the predominantly black neighbourhood in Tulsa.
Police looking into whether the shootings were hate crimes were investigating racially charged Facebook postings allegedly by suspect Jake England, 19, whose father’s shooting death two years ago led to charges against a black man, said Tulsa Police Captain Jonathan Brooks.
In response to a tip, police arrested England and Alvin Watts, 32, this morning at a home north of Tulsa on charges of first-degree murder and shooting with intent to kill, police said.
The series of shootings at about 1 a.m. /0500 GMT Friday set the predominantly black north side of Tulsa on edge after a victim told police the gunman was a white man in a pickup truck who stopped and asked for directions before opening fire.
Authorities said they were examining racially charged messages that England and Watts allegedly posted to Facebook less than 24 hours before the crime spree.
A post on England’s Facebook page on Thursday used a racial epithet to describe the black man charged in his father’s slaying two years ago and said “… I’m gone in the head.”
Among the Facebook comments posted in response was a supportive comment from Watts.
After the five black victims were shot on Friday morning, another post on England’s Facebook said “… people talking (expletive) on me for some (expletive) I didn’t do it just mite (sic) be the time to call it quits I hate to say it like that but I’m done if something does happen tonight be ready for another funeral later.”
The manhunt for the suspects involved 30 officers from local police as well as the FBI and U.S. marshals, said Tulsa police spokesman Jason Willingham.
The shootings took place within a mile (1.6 km) radius in the predominantly black neighborhood of North Tulsa, police said.
The dead were identified as Dannaer Fields, 49, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31. The two wounded men, who were not identified, were expected to survive.
Tulsa City Councilman Jack Henderson, who represents the district in which the shootings took place, said witnesses told police the suspect drove through the neighborhood, stopping several people on the street and asking for directions.
The pedestrians spoke briefly with the man but began walking away after they could not help him with directions, Henderson said. The driver then shot at them, killing one, and sped away, he said.
A witness told police he or she was sitting in front of a house when a man pulled up in a white Chevrolet pickup truck with rust spots on the hood and asked for directions.
After a brief exchange, the suspect produced a handgun and fired, striking two people before driving off, police said.