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Police: Suspects Confess To Tulsa Shooting Spree


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're going to spend this part of the program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a deadly shooting spree in a black neighborhood has revived memories of a long-ago race riot.

INSKEEP: First, we have an update on the news here. Police in Tulsa confirm that the two men accused of shooting five black people, and killing three, confessed shortly after they were arrested on Sunday.

MONTAGNE: Authorities plan to officially charge the pair with several counts of first-degree murder and other crimes. NPR's Cheryl Corley brings us this report.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Police are providing some of the details about Friday's shooting spree in Tulsa. A spokesman says that 19-year-old Jake England confessed to shooting three people; and 33-year-old Alvin Watts, to shooting two; as the pair drove through the mostly black area of north Tulsa, randomly selecting victims.

Both men are now described as white, and they both appeared in court yesterday via a video hookup, where a judge set bond for each of them at more than $9 million. Tulsa City councilman Jack Henderson is satisfied with that sum.

JACK HENDERSON: Oh, that's excellent. I don't think they'll be getting out anytime soon.

CORLEY: Authorities have said they expect to charge the pair with three counts of first degree murder. And they've warned all along that it's premature to call the shooting spree a hate crime. On England's Facebook page, which has since been taken down, he called a black man who shot his father to death a racial slur. And authorities say revenge may also be a factor in this case.

Tulsa County public defender Pete Silva says one of his attorneys is representing Pernell Jefferson. He says his office admits the gentleman, as Silva calls him, shot Jake England's father two years ago.

PETE SILVA: Under circumstances which the prosecutor's office chose not to file charges against that gentleman.

CORLEY: Silva says there was a dispute over an apartment, and Jefferson was attacked by Jake England's father and another person.

SILVA: Mr. England - from the witness statements - struck the gentleman with a wheelbarrow handle. And during that encounter, the gentleman obtained a pistol, shot and killed Mr. England, and was subsequently charged with attempted burglary and possession of a firearm.

CORLEY: Authorities ruled that shooting was self-defense. It was that incident, though, which officials say may have - along with the suicide of his fiance - spurred England and Watts' shooting spree.

Thirty-Sixth Street is a commercial strip on the north side of Tulsa. There are a lot of empty spaces here - in between gas stations, a barbecue joint and Ralph's Men's Wear. Ralph Eady is the owner. He walks across the road with city councilman Jack Henderson, to point out where one of the victims was found - on the grass in front of Jack's Memory Chapel, a funeral home. There's a red stain on the grass.

RALPH EADY: His head was here and laid that way. You know? Number one - I hate to say this, but I was thinking he was trying to send a message to North Tulsa, with the body being at the funeral home like...

CORLEY: Henderson says the Tulsa Police Department has stepped up patrols in the region.

HENDERSON: They were hoping that this funeral home would have had some cameras. And they didn't, unfortunately.

CORLEY: And Eady says the shooting has made everyone on 36th Street more cautious.

EADY: I'm not coming up to nobody, unless I know you personally - like, a person like Jack. You know, it's just - it's - it's scary.

CORLEY: The relatives of some of the deceased are beginning to speak out. Dannaer Fields, who worked as a caretaker, was two blocks from her house when she was shot. Her niece says she never felt unsafe in her neighborhood. Twenty-two-year-old Jonathan Townsend, a senior at Oral Roberts College, says he didn't know any of the victims, but he lives down the street from the funeral home.

JONATHAN TOWNSEND: The community is still pretty stunned at the moment. Every now and then, you will have these people who come around just to bring chaos. But we have to counter that with love for our neighbors, and support for one another.

CORLEY: City officials say they will be visiting the families of the deceased as well as the two victims who survived this shooting. Residents here are also in the process of establishing a fund to help families who don't have the wherewithal to bury those who died.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Tulsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.