Two White men accused in a spate of shootings in predominantly Black Tulsa, Oklahoma, neighborhoods will make their first court appearance Monday, as authorities work to determine whether the violence that left three people dead was racially motivated.
Authorities are digging into the backgrounds of Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 33, who are charged with three counts of murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill in connection with last week’s shootings, which also wounded two people.
A day before the shootings, a posting on England’s Facebook page said that it was the second anniversary of his father’s death “at the hands of a f*cking ni**er.” The entry also noted his girlfriend’s recent suicide.
Tulsa police Chief Chuck Jordan declined to discuss a motive on Monday, saying the case was still under investigation.
But he said the slur on the Facebook page might not be enough to add hate crime charges, because it referred to the person who killed England’s father, not the victims of the weekend shootings.
It may not matter anyway, Jordan said, because hate crime charges are designed to enhance the severity of penalties in lesser crimes. The shootings are being handled as a capital murder case.
The men, who Jordan said appeared to be good friends who shared a home in Tulsa, were arrested early Sunday after a series of tips that led investigators to England’s burned pickup truck. The vehicle matched one reported at the crime scenes, according to arrest reports.
A couple arriving at the suspects’ home on Sunday, who identified themselves as England’s relatives, said England’s father was shot to death in April 2010, and England had been left to care for his 6-month-old child after his girlfriend shot and killed herself in front of him a few months ago.
“His mind couldn’t take it anymore, I guess,” said a man who called himself England’s uncle. “I guess it just snapped his mind.”
On England’s Facebook page, a friend warned England not to “do anything stupid” after he posted a message Friday that read “It just mite be the time to call it quits.”
“I hate to say it like that but I’m done if something does happen tonite be ready for another funeral later,” England wrote.
“It’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head,” he wrote, referring to his girlfriend.
The Facebook page was taken down Sunday afternoon.
The shootings began about 1 a.m. Friday in north Tulsa.
The first victim, 49-year-old Dannaer Fields, died at a hospital. Two others were shot just three minutes later, but survived. They left the hospital Sunday, Jordan said.
Another person was shot and killed about 2 a.m. The body of a third victim was found around 8 a.m. next to a funeral home, though investigators believe he was shot hours earlier.
Jordan identified those victims as William Allen and Bobby Clark.
Police arrested Watts and England early Sunday after finding England’s truck Saturday night and placing him under surveillance, according to police reports.
Police have found a weapon used in the shootings. Jordan declined to say which of the suspects fired shots.
Despite a disparity in age and background, Watts and England appeared to be “pretty good friends,” Jordan said.
About 30 representatives from four law enforcement agencies — the Tulsa police, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI — had been working around the clock looking for those responsible for the shootings.
News of the arrests came as a relief to Tulsa’s Black residents, many of whom had went into hiding since the shooting, Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Monday.
“Well, they’re feeling a lot more secure in their homes,” he said.
Residents, particularly those in the black community, are sensitive to issues of racial conflict in Tulsa. The city of about 400,000 was the scene of a 1921 race riot — considered one of the worst in the nation — that destroyed the famed Greenwood District, a wealthy black enclave known as the black Wall Street.
“A lot of people in my community were afraid that they couldn’t go outside. They didn’t know if they could even go to church, didn’t know if they could go to the grocery store,” City Councilman Jack Henderson said.
Bartlett dismissed questions of whether racial tension in Tulsa played a role in the shootings.
“We’ve gone beyond that decades ago, really,” he said. “No, there is no racial tension in the town now.”