FRESNO, Calif. â€” Three men were having a seemingly ordinary day in downtown Fresno, California, before they were singled out at random and killed by a black gunman targeting white victims, police said.
The men happened to be on the same block, but had no known connection to each other or to the shooter, Kori Ali Muhammad, who told police he wanted to kill as many white people as he could before he was captured.
One victim, a 34-year-old father of two preschoolers, was on the job when he was shot Tuesday in the passenger seat of a Pacific Gas & Electric utility truck. The driver wasn’t hit and sped toward the police department, but his partner couldn’t be saved.
Another victim, a 37-year-old man, had just picked up a bag of groceries Tuesday at a Catholic Charities building when he was gunned down.
Stephen Hughes, 66, said he and his wife rushed home Tuesday after receiving a frantic call from a neighbour to find a body draped in a blanket on the sidewalk leading to his front door.
“It looks like a guy carrying his groceries home from the store,” Hughes said.
The third victim, a 59-year-old man, was gunned down in the parking of the Catholic Charities building.
“These were unprovoked attacks,” Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
Two Latina women and a child crossed paths with Muhammad but were luckier. Muhammad pointed the gun at them as they sat in their car trying to flee, but didn’t shoot.
Muhammad, 39, is in custody and is expected to be charged with four counts of murder â€” for Tuesday’s three victims and 25-year-old Motel 6 security guard, Carl Williams, another white man who Muhammad shot last week. He also faces at least two additional charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
Police had been looking for Muhammad in the Williams killing, and Muhammad said seeing his own name and picture in a press release Tuesday morning helped spur the rampage.
Muhammad had shorn off the braids featured in his wanted pictures and YouTube videos, fired 16 rounds in less than two minutes at four places within a block.
“I did it. I shot them,” Muhammad told officers as they arrested him, according to the chief.
During the arrest, Muhammad shouted “Allahu Akbar,” but Dyer said the shootings had “nothing to do with terrorism in spite of the statement he made.”
“This is solely based on race,” Dyer said.
Police are searching for the revolver Muhammad said he tossed into a pile of clothing. The gun may have been picked up by someone else, Dyer said.
On what appeared to be Muhammad’s Facebook page, he repeatedly posted “#LetBlackPeopleGo” and encouraged “black warriors” to “mount up.” A flurry of posts emerged in the past day.
He wrote that his “kill rate increases tremendously on the other side” and also posted about “white devils,” themes he dwelled on in hip-hop videos that he posted on YouTube.
Muhammad has a criminal history that includes arrests on weapons, drugs and false imprisonment charges and making terrorist threats. He had been associated with gangs but he was not a confirmed member, police say.
Muhammad was charged in 2005 with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, court records show. Federal prosecutors said at the time that he was also in possession of a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and two rifles after being convicted of a felony.
He claimed insanity, and his attorney requested a psychiatric examination for his client, saying Muhammad “appeared eccentric with some bizarre beliefs.”
He also “suffered auditory hallucinations and had at least two prior mental health hospitalizations,” according to court documents. His attorney said that Muhammad had “paranoia” and thought the justice system and his defence attorney were conspiring against him, court papers said.
The attorney who represented Muhammad in that case did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
Public records list Muhammad as Cory Taylor and other aliases with addresses in Fresno and Sacramento. Fresno’s police chief said his former name was Cory McDonald. A woman who identified herself as Taylor’s grandmother said Tuesday that the family last saw him on Easter Sunday. She hung up the phone before giving her name.
“I never would have thought he would do anything like this,” sad Muhammad’s brother, who asked not to be identified by name. “I’m just kind of shocked.”
Contributing to this report are Associated Press writers Sophia Bollag in Fresno; Kristin J. Bender, Olga R. Rodriguez and Janie Har in San Francisco; Jonathan J. Cooper and Don Thompson in Sacramento; Mike Balsamo in Los Angeles; and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York City.
Scott Smith, The Associated Press