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Memphis police say clues are scant in massacre of 6

Times Staff Writer

On Monday night, Tennessee pastor Keith Norman was at home having dinner when he got the call about the six bodies -- and the three wounded children -- found in a neighborhood on Memphis’ north side.

He rushed to the crime scene, gathered onlookers in the rain and prayed to God.

On Tuesday morning, Memphis police were pleading for help from anyone who would listen. During a news conference about one of the worst mass killings in their violence-racked city, they had no suspect photos or motive.

“This is a stain on our community, and we really need the community’s help,” Lt. Joe Scott said. “These were children that were brutally killed and injured.”

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“If you heard something -- anything -- saw a suspicious vehicle, this is not a time to ignore it,” Det. Monique Y. Martin added.

Martin described the scene at the modest brick house as “horrific,” but the details police offered Tuesday were hazy:

Someone had called authorities Monday evening and asked them to check on the well-being of the occupants. Inside, they found the four slain adults -- two men and two women -- and two dead children.

Three other children were badly wounded. They remained hospitalized Tuesday, one in serious condition and the other two described as “very critical.”

Police did not release the victims’ names or say whether they were related. The children, they said, appeared to be 18 months to 12 years old.

Details concerning the suspect or suspects were equally vague. Police said there was no sign of a break-in. One local TV station reported that the adults had been shot and the children stabbed, though police would not confirm those details.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper reported that Cecil Dotson had rented the Binghampton neighborhood house at 722 Lester St. with his girlfriend and that at least two children lived with them.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, neighbor Leo Baker, 54, said he heard shots coming from the direction of the house Saturday night. Five shots at first, he said, then two or three more. Baker said he went outside but didn’t see anything amiss. He said he didn’t know the people who lived in the house; he had just seen them in their backyard.

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The Memphis metropolitan area had the nation’s highest violent crime rate in 2006, according to the FBI, and the city has struggled with endemic poverty for decades. Neighborhoods like Binghampton have a tough reputation: Rapper Project Pat called North Memphis the place “where dem killers hang.”

On Tuesday night, there was a weariness in Baker’s voice. His neighborhood had been full of TV news vans, police tape and people standing on front lawns crying.

“I don’t know, man,” he said. “I really hate it, for the kids’ sake.”

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richard.fausset@latimes.com


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