Gunman who opened fire on Tennessee highway was motivated by police shootings, authorities say

A black Army veteran accused of shooting indiscriminately at passing cars and police on a Tennessee highway told investigators he was angry about police violence against African Americans, authorities said Friday.

It was one of several spasms of violence across the country this week amid boiling tensions over policing and race.

One woman died and three others, including one police officer, were injured in the rampage early Thursday.


Meanwhile, police said officers have been targeted in Georgia and Missouri in the aftermath of two high-profile killings of black men by law enforcement and the Dallas attack that left five officers dead and seven more wounded. Other departments reported being bombarded with threats and some implemented new policies requiring officers to patrol in pairs.

Civilians also have been caught in the fray. The woman who died in Tennessee was a newspaper carrier driving down the highway.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a news release that a preliminary investigation revealed the suspect, 37-year-old former soldier Lakeem Keon Scott, was troubled by recent incidents in other states. All those he shot were white, police said.

Scott was wounded in a shootout with police. He remains hospitalized and has not yet been charged.

The Bureau of Investigation alleges that he first fired shots through the window of the Days Inn on Volunteer Parkway in Bristol, striking longtime front desk clerk Deborah Watts.

Days Inn owner Kiran Patel said he awoke to the sound of gunfire. He said that when his wife called the front desk to see what had happened, Watts answered and said she’d been shot. She remains in the hospital in serious but stable condition, authorities said.

“She is like family to us,” Patel said. “It’s horrible. I don’t know how to explain how horrible.”

Scott then turned his fire to cars passing on the highway, investigators allege.

Newspaper carrier Jennifer Rooney, a 44-year-old mother of two, was killed when a bullet struck her as she was on her way to pick up papers for the morning delivery. The Bristol Herald-Courier reported that her car careened over a median and crashed through a chain link fence.

“I don’t think she had an enemy in her life,” her husband, David Rooney, told the newspaper. “She was the type of person that could have a disagreement with someone and 10 minutes later turn around and help them, and that rubbed off on everybody who she came in contact with.”

David Whitman Davis was injured by flying glass from the gunfire, the Bureau of Investigation said.

Three officers with the Bristol Police Department arrived and confronted Scott, who fired on them, police said.

Officer Matthew Cousins was hit in the leg. He was treated for superficial injuries and released, authorities said.

Scott — allegedly armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a large amount of ammunition — was struck by the officers returning fire. He remains in the hospital in serious but stable condition. Police were not able to interview him until late Friday morning, according to the statement from the Bureau of Investigation.

Hours before, as he was in the hospital, 12 officers were shot at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. Police said the sniper declared he was angry about police shootings of black men and wanted to exterminate whites. Five of the officers died.

In Georgia, police said, one officer was ambushed Friday when he came to an apartment complex to investigate a report of a break-in. Another officer was fired upon by a motorist north of Atlanta. And just outside St. Louis, police said, an officer was ambushed during a traffic stop.

Scott’s cousin, Sarah Scott, said she is so close to him he calls her “sister.” She said she was shocked by the allegations against him.

“He’s into his culture, he really is, but never would he hurt anybody,” she said. She called him an “open, big-hearted person.”

Scott, who has no criminal history, grew up in New York City and had moved to Tennessee fairly recently, likely because of a lower cost of living, his cousin said. She said he was in the Army but was injured at some point, collected disability payments and did not have a job.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson confirmed Scott served from January 1998 to June 1999. He was a private in the 5th Battalion 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment stationed in South Korea.

One of Scott’s brothers, Gerard Griffin, said Scott has three brothers and two sisters and often acted as their “protector.”

Griffin said his brother “was a little angry” when he came back from the military.

“He seemed to be getting more and more frustrated with the condition of black people in America,” Griffin said.

Scott’s neighbor Alan Lavasser, who is white, said he couldn’t believe the incident was motivated by racial tension over police violence. He said Scott was always nice and friendly.

Lavasser and his wife moved in two years ago and Scott already lived there, he said. They developed a friendship. Lavasser said he would give Scott rides because he didn’t have a car, and Scott would stop by and bring them food.

He called Scott a “nice all-around person” who “would do anything for anybody.”

“There are a lot of people trying to say this was racially motivated,” he said. “I will never believe that, never, because he was always nice to me and my wife and everyone around here. No way I would ever believe that it was racially motivated.”

Authorities said in a statement that “a thorough understanding of his motivation for this incident remains central to the ongoing investigative work.”

Griffin said he was struggling to understand how his brother’s frustration may have led to violence.

“Don’t get me wrong, everything he did was wrong,” Griffin said. “but frustration, we can all understand that.”


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9:28 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the suspect’s military service and comments from family and neighbors.

12:34 p.m.: This article was updated with more information on the shooting and the victim.

This article was originally published at 12:17 p.m.