Three dead in Fresno shooting rampage; suspect caught, linked to Motel 6 slaying
Three people were shot and killed after a man went on a shooting rampage Tuesday in Fresno, randomly shooting at four white men, killing three, before he was taken into custody, police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
The 39-year-old suspect, identified as Kori Ali Muhammad, is also suspected in the fatal shooting of a security guard outside a Motel 6 on Blackstone Avenue in central Fresno Thursday. He is facing four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, Dyer said. He said Muhammad had expressed dislike of whites in Facebook posts; all of the victims were white. Dyer called it a “random act of violence.”
Two of the people shot outside Catholic Charities, on Fulton Street just north of downtown, may have been clients of the social service agency, not employees, Dyer said. The third victim was a Pacific Gas & Electric employee riding in a company truck. A fourth man was shot at but not injured.
Dyer said the gunman walked up to the PG&E truck in the 300 block of North Van Ness Avenue about 10:45 a.m. and shot the passenger repeatedly. The driver of the pickup then sped to Fresno police headquarters on M Street. The second shooting was only a few seconds later and was at Van Ness and Mildreda Street, where the gunman shot at but missed a resident. The gunman then turned onto Fulton Street and fired several rounds at another man, striking and killing him, Dyer said. After reloading at a bus stop, the gunman then shot and killed a man in the parking lot of Catholic Charities in the 100 block of North Fulton Street, he said.
Officers responding to the initial shotspotter reports found Muhammad running south on Fulton. Muhammad dove to the ground and yelled “Ali Akbar” before he was taken into custody, Dyer said. Although police found rounds of .357 caliber bullets and speed loaders for a revolver when Muhammad was taken into custody, no weapon was found, Dyer said.
Dyer said that it’s too soon to determine if the shootings involved terrorism.
However, a review of Muhammad’s social media shows he quoted the phrase “Allahu Akbar” in a tweet. The Arabic phrase translates to “God is the greatest.”
The FBI and ATF have both been notified about Tuesday’s shootings, Dyer said. But Dyer noted that in Thursday’s shooting at Motel 6, which was caught on surveillance video, Muhammad did not make any similar statements. “What we know is that this was a random act of violence,” Dyer said. “There is every reason to believe he acted alone.”
Muhammad was identified early in the Motel 6 murder, based on the surveillance cameras, and officers had sought him in Madera and other locations in subsequent days. His Facebook page at one point indicated that he was in Atlanta, which was untrue, Dyer said. His Facebook posts indicated that “he does not like white people, and he has anti-government sentiments,” the chief said.
Witnesses reported the gunman sprayed rounds while reloading and cursing.
A second gunshot victim was reported outside of the Fresno Police Department station at Mariposa Mall and M Street at 10:51 a.m. The victim also was taken to Community Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, Dyer said.
Police are investigating at four separate crime scenes on Van Ness, Mildreda and Fulton, and those areas will remain closed for at least a few hours, Dyer said. At least one shooting victim remained on the scene, and officers with K-9 are searching for the murder weapon.
At 10:54 a.m., a report of a man down was reported at 215 N. Fulton St., about a block from Catholic Charities. That victim died at the scene, county Emergency Medical Services officials confirmed.
Fresno County government offices are on a lockdown alert. People have been urged to shelter in place. Homicide detectives were called to the shooting scenes. At least one agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was at the Fulton Street shooting scene, and agents from Homeland Security were outside Fresno police headquarters.
A witness who lives close to Catholic Charities who did not want to be identified, said he watched the chaos unfold from his front yard as the suspect, carrying a large-caliber revolver, shot a man repeatedly in a front yard on the west side Fulton Street north of Nevada Avenue. Then, he stopped and calmly ejected spent shell casings from the weapon and reloaded near a bus stop south of Nevada.
“The shells are still there,” the witness said, pointing them out.
The suspect then walked south on Fulton, where he opened fire on a man in the Catholic Charities parking lot, the witness said. A witness said the suspect carried a large-caliber handgun and shot a man repeatedly in a front yard on Fulton Street north of Nevada Avenue, then reloaded at a bus stop south of Nevada.
The suspect then shot a man in the Catholic Charities parking lot, the witness said.
“He didn’t look like a gang-banger or anything,” the witness said.
At Catholic Charities, about a dozen distraught people cried, moaned and hugged one another as several undercover police officers worked furiously to keep the shooting victim alive by pumping on his chest. Blood from the gunshot wounds flooded the ground nearby.
“It could have been me,” moaned one man. “I ran. He couldn’t get away,” he added, pointing to the victim as an ambulance sped toward the shooting, driving the wrong way up Fulton with siren blaring.
“Give us some room! Move back,” shouted a woman, apparently a worker at the charity, where people line up daily to seek food and necessities. It’s an area where misery and petty crime happen every day, but nothing like this.
Arriving police officers jumped from their cars, pushing everyone back and throwing up crime scene tape.
“Can we stay here?” asked a television reporter.
“No! You too,” shouted a plainclothes detective.
Teresa Dominguez, chancellor for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, said the diocese is providing support for those who witnessed the shooting.
“The diocese will be present to the needs of all those serving as witnesses to this violent and traumatic event,” Dominguez said, “such as counseling and pastoral care, and Bishop Ochoa asks for the prayer of all the faithful for the victims of this violent crime and their families, and that law enforcement will be successful in the their investigation in identifying the perpetrator.”
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said: “Our hearts are very heavy today, as we have lost a member of our PG&E family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our employee, and all those impacted by this tragic event. Public and employee safety is always our top priority. While we focus on safety every day, no training or protective equipment can prepare one for events outside of one’s control.”
Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno said this attack is against the Muslim faith.
“We denounce and reject in the strongest words possible this kind of violence and attack,” Ghazvini said, “and we request law enforcement agencies investigate the reasons and motivations about the person himself. He’s not known in our community, and we are in touch with other communities to see if he was a member or not. At this time, we are collecting information to see who is this person. … We have a very active relationship with all branches of state and federal law enforcement agencies in the Valley to make them aware of possible extremism within our area.”
Ghazvini said the literal translation of “Allahu Akbar” means “God is the greatest.” It is used during prayers and “unfortunately the same term is being used in an evil manner by extremists and terrorists trying to give some kind of religious legitimacy to their acts – we strongly denounce this.
“We do use this term during our prayer and calls for prayer, and we use it to pray to God and ask for healing people and bringing peace … the way it is being used by extremist and violent people is actually against our faith and is a misrepresentation of the word.”
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand expressed sadness for the families of the victims and noted that the quick response of police officers prevented “further senseless violence.
“If there were ways to prevent tragedies like this in the future, I would not hesitate in using them. Again, my heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones today.”
Reporters Carmen George, Marc Benjamin, Rory Appleton and Tim Sheehan contributed to the story. Jim Guy: 559-441-6339, @jimguy27