Three people were killed in “random” and “unprovoked” shootings that unfolded in a matter of seconds Tuesday morning in Fresno, Calif., and were fueled by racial hatred, authorities said.
Police said they quickly arrested a suspect who they determined had previously expressed anger toward white people and the government. After the suspect was taken into custody, he yelled “Allahu akbar,” according to Jerry Dyer, the Fresno police chief.
Dyer said police believed the killings were “motivated by hate” and not tied to terrorism. The suspected attacker gave a statement that made police “believe it is a hate crime” and not related to terrorism, Dyer said, but the police chief declined to elaborate on what was said.
“We do not believe based on the information we have today that this is a terrorist-related crime,” Dyer said during a news briefing Tuesday night. “Based on the information that we have been provided and our investigation has shown, is that this is solely based on race. It has nothing to do with terrorism, in spite of the statements he made.”
Authorities identified the suspect as 39-year-old Kori Ali Muhammad and described him as a man with a lengthy criminal history who went out Tuesday intending to kill people. Police said he dived onto the ground when he saw an officer before being taken into custody.
After he was taken into custody, Muhammad told police, “I did it. I shot them,” according to Dyer.
“This was a random act of violence,” Dyer said at a briefing earlier Tuesday. “These individuals that were chosen today did not do anything to deserve what they got. These were unprovoked attacks by an individual who was intent on carrying out homicides today, and he did that.”
Dyer said that police examined Muhammad’s Facebook account, where they found “some posts that say he does not like white people” as well as others that “expressed some antigovernment sentiments.”
The shooting rampage Tuesday erupted after Muhammad saw news reports identifying him as the suspect in a killing last week, Dyer said. The police chief described Muhammad as a person “filled with hate.”
Muhammad’s father, Vincent Taylor, told the Los Angeles Times that the suspected gunman believed he was part of a war between white and black people and that “a battle was about to take place.”
Based on the Facebook postings and Muhammad’s exclamation Tuesday, police reached out to the FBI about the shootings, Dyer said.
“I’m certain they’re going to be very interested in this case,” he said.
Dyer said police believe Muhammad had “his mental faculties about him” after the shooting, because when the police chief arrived at the scene, Muhammad said, “I’m sorry, chief.”
Muhammad was booked into the Fresno County Jail early Wednesday morning on charges of murder and attempted murder and is being held without bail, according to jail records.
Police believe that Muhammad acted alone Tuesday, Dyer said.
The police chief had said earlier Tuesday that authorities did not immediately make a determination on whether the shooting was terrorism, though he added, “Certainly, by the statement that was made, it would give that indication.” Dyer later said
Dyer said Muhammad fatally shot a security guard at a motel in the city last week and did not make any comments or statements at that time. The police chief said Tuesday that investigators were focused on “trying to determine why he did what he did.”
The three people killed Tuesday were white men, as was the motel security guard, Dyer said.
The FBI referred questions about the incident to the Fresno Police Department. A police spokesman did not respond to a message seeking further comment Tuesday.
If federal investigators do determine that the suspect was inspired by international terrorist groups, the FBI would take over the case. Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also dispatched to the scene of the shooting.
A federal law enforcement official said it appeared initially that the case would stay with the Fresno police, as there were more indications early on that the incident was a local, criminal matter rather than an act of terrorism. The FBI has been asked to assist, and it is often a thorough review of a person’s digital media that reveals a case to be one of terrorism, rather than local crime.
Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, had posted on Twitter that Muhammad’s motivations may be tied to racial animus. According to Katz, whose group tracks extremist activity, Muhammad had posted on social media praising the gunman who killed five police officers in Dallas last year. Police in Dallas said that attacker declared that “he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
Katz also wrote that while Muhammad had posted the phrase “Allahu akbar,” his Facebook page “contains no indication of jihadi influence.”
Police had identified Muhammad, who also goes by the nickname “Black Jesus,” after the motel shooting last week based on video from the scene, Dyer said. After shooting the unarmed security guard multiple times, the police chief said, Muhammad also fired at another guard.
Authorities did not initially publicize his identity as they were chasing possible sightings of Muhammad, as well as other leads in the case, Dyer said. He said Muhammad has had some associations with gangs but is not believed to be a gang member.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said Muhammad is a homeless man known to frequent areas near Fresno City College and other parts of the city. The imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno told the Associated Press that Muhammad is not a member of the center.
“This is a sad day for us all,” Mayor Lee Brand said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. None of us can imagine what they must be going through.”
Authorities were first alerted Tuesday when ShotSpotter, a system for tracking gunfire, logged shots just over a mile from police headquarters.
Dyer said the first ShotSpotter alert came in at 10:45 a.m. with a report of two gunshots fired. Officers were immediately dispatched, even as other ShotSpotter alerts followed: Four rounds fired, followed by six rounds, followed by four more rounds.
All 16 rounds were fired in less than a minute in four locations across a small area, Dyer said.
Police described the people killed Tuesday, who were not immediately identified, as simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One man shot was the passenger in an electric company’s truck. Another man was shot after encountering the shooter on the street, police said, while the third victim was in a parking lot. Dyer also said the shooter fired several rounds at another person in the area but missed.
The shootings erupted near a Catholic Charities facility. Two of the people killed appeared to be clients of the charitable group, Dyer said.
Muhammad will be charged with four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, Dyer said.
“Our condolences go out to all of the families who lost their loved ones,” he said.
Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report, which was first posted at Tuesday evening at 6:06 p.m. and has been updated to add new information.