Editor’s Note: This story contains offensive language.
Authorities ruled the death of one suspect's father a "justifiable homicide"
Suspect posted a profane message last week about a black man killing his father
Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 33, are accused of killing three and wounding two
A survivor says he answered a driver's question before suddenly getting shot
Prosecutors will review whether hate crime charges are appropriate against Jake England and Alvin Watts, the men accused of shooting five African-Americans – three of them fatally – in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a district attorney said Monday.
“If the motivation is racial in this case, then that needs to be vetted in a court of law just like any others,” Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said. “It’s the law of the state of Oklahoma and if the facts and the evidence support that, then we’re going to go forward with it.”
An update posted to England’s Facebook page the day before the shootings noted it was the second anniversary of his father’s death “at the hands of a f–king n—-r.” The entry also mentioned his girlfriend’s recent suicide.
A judge on Monday ordered England, 19, and Watts, 33, held on $9.16 million bond each on allegations of murder, shooting with intent to kill and possessing a gun in the commitment with intent to kill.
Authorities accuse the pair of gunning down apparent strangers at four different locations in a largely African-American section of Tulsa early Friday. England and Watts have not been formally charged, something the district attorney’s office said will happen only after the investigation and review of charges recommended by police are finished.
The men were arrested early Sunday after tips led investigators to England’s burned pickup. The vehicle matched one reported at the crime scenes, according to arrest reports.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan described England and Watts as apparently close friends who shared a home in Tulsa.
Police reports characterize both men as white, but authorities have declined to say whether they think race played a role in the shootings.
Just four days ago, England put up his profane online post alluding to his father, Carl England, being shot by a black man.
The district attorney’s office explained in a statement Monday that it declined to file homicide charges in that April 5, 2010, shooting, because it was deemed justifiable in light of Oklahoma law allowing “deadly force (when) necessary to protect himself/herself from imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.”
The shooter, Pernell Demond Jefferson, is charged in that case with attempted first-degree burglary and possessing a firearm after having previously committed a felony. A jury trial on those charges is set to begin May 7, according to the district attorney’s office. He was on probation on burglary and firearm charges at the time of the 2010 shooting.
Authorities have not indicated that those responsible for the early Friday shootings spoke at all about a motive, or about race, before opening fire.
The three people killed – two of them in residential areas between 1 and 2 a.m. and the other about 8 a.m. next to a funeral home, though investigators believe he was shot hours earlier – have been identified by authorities as Dannaer Fields, William Allen and Bobby Clark.
Two others were shot but survived, and both of them were released Sunday from Tulsa hospitals, Jordan said.
One survivor, Deon Tucker, told reporters Monday that he was standing on his porch when a white pickup pulled up and its driver asked him for directions. “Next thing I know, they start shooting,” he said.
“What are they shooting me for? I ain’t got no enemies. I didn’t know what was going on,” recalled Tucker, who said he was shot once in the chest.
He added that he understands that his race might have led to his shooting. But Tucker said, in a matter of fact way, that he simply “got caught in the wrong spot” and isn’t “mad at anybody,” describing his shooter as a “lunatic.”
Will shootings be considered a hate crime?
Police have recovered a weapon that may have been used in the shootings, but Jordan declined to say which of the men is believed to have fired the shots. Tucker said he saw only the truck’s driver and didn’t know who exactly shot him.
One of England’s neighbors, Synita Bowers, described him as well-mannered and helpful, according to CNN affiliate KOTV in Tulsa. She said she didn’t believe England was capable of killing, the station reported.
“I can’t imagine it. Not Jake,” Bowers said, according to KOTV.
A couple arriving at the suspects’ home on Sunday who described themselves as England’s relatives said England had been troubled since the death of his father in April 2010. They also said he had been left to care for his 6-month-old child after his girlfriend’s recent suicide.
“His mind couldn’t take it anymore, I guess,” said a man who identified himself as 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.
While no charges have been filed yet, City Councilor Jack Henderson said the online posts and the unique circumstances lead him to believe that the shooters targeted their victims chiefly because of their race.
“You have an individual – a white male – going into a predominantly black community (to) shoot at black people. And with the other evidence … and some of the things that were said, that leads me to believe that this was totally a hate crime,” Henderson said.
Whatever the eventual charges, the suspects’ arrest came as a relief to residents in Henderson’s district, which includes all the shooting sites.
Before the arrest, Henderson said, many residents had changed their daily habits and, in some cases, were afraid to go outside.
“They didn’t know if they could even go to church, didn’t know if they could go to the grocery store,” he said.
Tulsa 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.
Harris said the community’s response to the shootings said more about current race relations in Tulsa than the shootings should.
“This community will not be defined by the treacherous, evil crimes of two individuals,” he said. “That’s not what Tulsa, Oklahoma, is about and that’s not what our people are about,” he said. “The fact that this community drew together as one to stop this threat is what Tulsa is all about.”
CNN’s Maria P. White contributed to this report.