NEW: The town's mayor says he doesn't feel it was a hate crime
DA says the case will not be prosecuted as a hate crime
One man says it may have been gang-related
As an Oklahoma town comes to grips with the apparent senseless killing of an Australian baseball player on its streets, one man is offering a possible motive: gang violence.
James Johnson says the three boys now charged in the shooting death of Christopher Lane tried to recruit his son into a gang, then threatened to kill him if he refused. He said he thinks Lane was killed as part of a gang initiation.
“I don’t think it was for fun. I don’t think it was at random,” Johnson told Australia-based Fairfax Media from his home in Duncan.
D.A.: No evidence of a hate crime
The case posed questions of race early on because two of the three suspects are black and Lane was white. One of the suspects allegedly posted a message on Twitter in April saying he hated white people.
District Attorney Jason Hicks acknowledged Friday the post seems racial in nature, but said the case will not be prosecuted as a hate crime.
“At this point, the evidence does not support the theory that Christopher Lane was targeted based upon his race or nationality,” Hicks said in a statement.
Duncan Mayor Gene Brown said he doesn’t think Lane’s killing was a hate crime, either. He told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” the crime is just the result of bad choices made by young people.
“I think everybody that lives here wishes it would not have happened in our community, regardless of what race” the victim is, Brown said. “I think that we are more concerned with just making sure that everything is taken care of for (Lane’s) family and that they get all of the things that they need in order to get him home safely and take care of their loved ones.”
Suspects arrested after 911 call
It was Johnson who made the call to police that resulted in the arrests of the three suspects: James Edwards, Jr., 15, Chancey Luna, 16, and Michael Jones, 17.
Edwards and Luna are charged as adults with first-degree felony murder; Jones is charged with using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
Johnson was working on his truck in a church parking lot last Friday when the three teens drove up. He had just gotten off the phone with his son, Chris, who told his father about the threat on his life. Chris lives in a house with his mother across the street from the church.
It was two hours after Lane’s death. Johnson, unaware of the crime, called 911 to report the teens had guns and had already threatened his son. He knew the boys – and even mentioned Edwards by name in the call – because the four teens had grown up together, he told Fairfax Media.
Police arrived and took the three into custody.
Police say Jones later told them, “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.”
Edwards’ older sister, Rachel Padilla, told CNN on Thursday that her brother hung around with some older guys who were thought to be in a gang, and that other people have told her Edwards was in one – but she said she doesn’t want to believe it.
Asked about it by CNN, Duncan Police Chief Danny Ford said there are no gang members in town. Brown, the mayor, said the town has been able to control gang activity.
“That’s not to say that something might slip in on us, but I don’t think we have a real problem with that,” Brown told CNN. “If we do, we definitely need to look into it.”
Shock and sorrow after shooting
Richard Rhodes, a 37-year-old contractor who was working on a house near where the shooting happened, tried to save Lane’s life by performing CPR, he told Fairfax Media.
“I was like this, telling him, ‘Buddy, stay with us; stay with us,’” Rhodes said, showing how he knelt next to the victim.
Lane, 23, was gasping for air, and soon the gasps stopped.
Rhodes and a woman together performed CPR until it became apparent that Lane had died, Fairfax reported.
Lane’s friends and family are being invited to a memorial game in his honor Sunday, and a donation page has been set up to raise money for a memorial fund in his name.
A former student and classmate at East Central University, where Lane was studying, described him as “a charming guy, genuinely good person, with great character and had a love for life.”
“As cliched as it sounds, Chris was the kind of guy you want your sons to grow up to be and that you want your daughters to marry. It just breaks my heart knowing how much more he could have brought to this world as a husband, father, son, brother and friend,” Sam Malchar said.
CNN’s Alina Machado, Randi Kaye, Hilary Whiteman and Josh Levs contributed to this report.