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Police probe possible racial motive in Tulsa killings

From Susan Candiotti, CNN
updated 6:38 PM EDT, Sun April 8, 2012
Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, were arrested Sunday in connection with shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, were arrested Sunday in connection with shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We're going to explore any possible motives," police chief says
  • A police appeal led to an "outpouring" of tips from the public, detective says
  • The two men arrested in the shootings face arraignment Monday morning
  • "It just mite be the time to call it quits," one suspect posted to Facebook on Friday

Editor's note: This story contains language that some readers may consider offensive.

Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Police are investigating whether the shootings of five African-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were a hate crime after the weekend arrests of two white suspects in the case, local authorities said Sunday.

Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, are scheduled to be arraigned Monday morning. Tulsa police arrested them early Sunday after a series of tips that led investigators to England's burned pickup, a vehicle that matched a description reported at the crime scenes, according to their arrest reports.

The shootings left three dead and two wounded. Both suspects are charged with three counts of murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill, police said.

"We're going to explore any possible motives," Police Chief Chuck Jordan told reporters Sunday afternoon. But he said the investigation was still going on, and Jim Finch, the head of the FBI's Oklahoma office, said Sunday that it was "premature" to talk about hate crimes.

"We have yet to analyze all the information to understand the motivations of these subjects in this case," Finch said.

England had written a racial slur on his Facebook page in a post marking the anniversary of his father's 2010 killing. But the entry also noted his girlfriend's recent suicide, and a man at England's home told CNN, "You don't know what this family's been through."

The shootings began about 1 a.m. Friday in predominantly black neighborhoods 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 and were released from the hospital Sunday, Jordan said.

Another person was shot and killed about 2 a.m., while the third victim was found around 8 a.m. next to a funeral home. Jordan identified the other two victims as William Allen and Bobby Clark.

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Investigators have found a weapon they believe was involved the case, said Tulsa Police Maj. Walter Evans, who led the task force assembled to probe the shootings. But he said investigators did not yet know which of the suspects may have fired the fatal shots.

Nor was the relationship between England and Watts clear Sunday. Evans said they were not related, describing them only as "associates."

Police put out an appeal for tips over the weekend, and there was an "outpouring" after a Saturday afternoon news conference, Evans said. Those tips led to England, with one reporting that he was planning to burn a white pickup truck that had been identified at the shooting scenes, according to the arrest reports.

Police found the burned vehicle, registered to England, on Saturday evening, leading them to put him under surveillance and get warrants to arrest him and search his home. England and Watts were arrested a few blocks away from England's residence shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, according to the reports.

"In my 23 years of law enforcement, I don't think I've ever seen any crime as heinous as this," Evans said. "But at the same time, I don't think I've seen such an outpouring of support and cooperation from the community."

Police reports listed the same address for England and Watts, a home in a rural area on the northern outskirts of Tulsa. An arriving couple who identified themselves only as England's relatives said England's father had been 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," the man who called himself England's uncle told CNN, adding, "I guess it just snapped his mind."

Earlier, others at the home hurled abuse at a CNN crew that approached the driveway.

One of England's neighbors, 83-year-old Synita Bowers, said England "is a very nice young man, very well mannered.

"He would help me over here," Bowers said. "When his dogs turn over my trash cans, he comes and cleans it up -- very nice young man."

But on England's Facebook page, a friend warned him not to "do anything stupid" after a Friday night message 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.

And on Thursday afternoon, he noted that it was the second anniversary of his father's death "at the hands of a f***ing nigger."

"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.

Authorities would not comment Sunday on any possible link between Friday's shootings and the death of England's father.

"When five black people appear to be shot by a white person, then the immediate reaction is there is a racial component," Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett told CNN. "If that's how the prosecution comes out, we certainly support and will help in any manner, shape or form to bring an end to that point of view."

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 residents, many of whom had changed their daily habits since the shooting.

"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.

Now, he said, Tulsans "can feel they are safe" -- and he said he hoped the cooperation they gave police could encourage others to come forward with information on other still-unsolved killings.

"I get a feeling from my community that there's going to be a better relationship with the Police Department," he said. "The Police Department has shown they can solve crimes, they can solve them fast."

CNN's Ross Levitt, Randi Kaye, Maria P. White, Nick Valencia and Don Lemon contributed to this report.

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