Two men were arrested Sunday in connection with the shootings of five black people in Tulsa, Okla., and authorities were investigating their backgrounds and Facebook pages to try to determine whether the attacks were racially motivated.
Three of the shooting victims died. Police described the suspects as white, but a family friend said one was Cherokee.
Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, both of Tulsa, were arrested after an anonymous tip about 2 a.m. north of the city, near where the shootings occurred, Tulsa Police Department spokesman Jason Willingham said.
England’s Facebook page seemed to indicate that he planned to target blacks out of revenge because a black man had killed his father. The shootings began Friday, one day after the second anniversary of his father’s death.
“There is a link between the two,” Willingham said. “Was that his only motive? We don’t know. We’re assuming that was a driving force.”
Those killed were Dannaer Fields, 49; Bobby Clark, 54; and William Allen, 31, all shot as they were walking within a few miles of one another on Tulsa’s predominantly black north side.
England’s Facebook page appeared to have been taken down Sunday, but Britain’s Daily Mail and others posted screen shots and quotations from it.
“I’m gone in the head. Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” England wrote on the page Thursday, using a racial slur to refer to the person who killed his father.
Carl England, 47, was shot April 5, 2010, during a fight about a quarter-mile east of where Allen’s body was found. The man arrested in connection with Carl England’s shooting was Pernell Demond Jefferson, a convicted felon. Jefferson, subsequently convicted of pointing a firearm, is serving a prison sentence through October 2014, according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections records.
After last week’s shootings, Jake England — who described himself on Facebook as a Tulsa native who attended high school in Sperry, about 10 miles north of the city — wrote on his page: “I do believe it just mite be the time to call it quits. ... I’m done. If something does happen tonite, be ready for another funeral.”
Watts, who according to his Facebook page is self-employed, originally from Muskogee and living in Sperry, posted frequently on England’s page, calling him “my bro” and sending messages of support after his father’s killing. The Associated Press reported that they were roommates.
England and Watts were unarmed and did not resist arrest, Willingham said. He would not discuss what evidence was recovered, but investigators said at a Sunday news briefing that they had found a weapon and a charred truck.
Willingham said the truck was registered to England. Earlier, investigators had said they were seeking a white truck in connection with the shootings.
FBI Special Agent Clay Simmonds said it was too early to know whether the shootings were hate crimes or warranted federal charges because investigators “haven’t fully determined what the motive was.” He noted that investigators said the targets appeared to be random.
A friend of England’s family, Susan Sevenstar, told the Associated Press that England was “a good kid” and “a good, hard worker” who “was not in his right mind” after his father’s death and the January suicide of his fiancee, with whom he’d recently had a baby.
“If anybody is trying to say this is a racial situation, they’ve got things confused,” said Sevenstar, who described England as Cherokee Indian. “He didn’t care what your color was. It wasn’t a racist thing.”
Tulsa, a city of about 400,000 in northeast Oklahoma, has a history of racial unrest dating to a 1921 riot that destroyed the then-thriving Greenwood District, known as “the black Wall Street.”
With the black community on edge after last week’s shootings, authorities formed a task force to try to solve the crimes quickly. Operation Random Shooter included the Tulsa police, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI.
“We wanted the community to know we were taking this very seriously,” Willingham said.
Investigators believe England and Watts acted alone, Willingham said, but he urged local residents to remain vigilant about their safety.
“We’re pretty certain that we have the shooters, but we’ve still got a lot of investigation to do,” he said.
The Rev. Warren Blakney Sr., president of the Tulsa chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, called the arrests a big relief.
“The community once again can go about its business without fear of there being a shooter on the streets on today, on Easter morning,” Blakney told the Associated Press.
England and Watts were expected to be charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill. They were being held without bail at the Tulsa jail. It was not clear whether they had lawyers, Willingham said.