The suspect in Tuesday’s shooting rampage told police he decided to “kill as many people as he could” once he learned investigators had identified him as the suspect in last week’s slaying of a Motel 6 security guard, police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
“I can't think of an incident we've had for a long period of time that even got close to what we saw today,” Dyer said.
Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, now faces four counts of murder – three for Tuesday’s shooting and one for the fatal shooting of the Motel 6 guard, Dyer said.
As soon as the first Fresno police officer arrived at Tuesday’s shooting scene, Muhammad dropped to the ground and told the officer “I did it. I shot them,” Dyer said at an evening news conference. Muhammad then identified himself and told the officer “you guys are looking for me,” the chief said.
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Dyer said Muhammad also addressed him directly he arrived at the scene: “I’m sorry, chief.”
Although Muhammad quoted the phrase “Allahu Akbar” at the scene and previously on social media, Dyer said the fatal shooting of three people near downtown Fresno Tuesday morning was motivated by race, not terrorism. All three of Tuesday’s victims were white, as was the security guard slain last week.
“What I do know is this is an absolute tragedy that nobody will probably be able to make sense of,” Dyer said. “Because it stems from an individual who is filled with hate – filled with anger – who set out to shoot some individuals in our city today for no reason whatsoever other than what we believe to be (his own) hate.”
I can’t think of an incident we’ve had for a long period of time that even got close to what we saw today.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
The Bee has learned that one victim, 34-year-old Zackary Randalls, was a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employee on a ride-along in a company truck. He was the first man shot Tuesday. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Dyer said. The chief grew emotional when he mentioned his conversation with Randalls’ family.
The driver of the PG&E truck, who rushed Randalls to the Fresno Police Department after he was shot, was not harmed. He is a Hispanic man, Dyer said.
Dyer said the identities of all the victims will be released Wednesday morning. Two men – a 37-year-old and a 58-year-old – were shot near the Catholic Charities building at 149 N. Fulton St. Both are believed to be Catholic Charities clients. One was carrying a grocery bag filled with items he had just been given by the charity.
Muhammad also fired several shots at a 59-year-old white man but didn’t hit him, Dyer said.
Carl Williams, 25, was killed Thursday at the Motel 6. His killing was spontaneous, Dyer said, due to a fight between Muhammad, a woman Muhammad was visiting and hotel staff.
Once he was identified as the motel shooting suspect, Dyer said, Muhammad decided “he was going to kill as many people as he could today and that’s what he set out to do.” The suspected killer had cut his hair and shaved his braids, altering his appearance between the shootings.
When asked if he regretted releasing Muhammad’s identity and picture Tuesday morning, Dyer admitted he wrestled with the choice. However, he said it was the right call, as investigators had exhausted all leads and needed the public’s help in finding Muhammad. The people of Fresno also had a right to know a suspected killer was on the loose, Dyer added.
For reasons not yet known, Dyer said, Muhammad spared a family during his brief spree Tuesday. A 49-year-old woman, her 28-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old infant were sitting in a car on Fulton Street when the shots rang out. They tried to drive away but could not start their car. Muhammad approached the vehicle and pointed his gun at the women, then walked away. All three of the car’s occupants are Hispanic.
This is an absolute tragedy that nobody will probably be able to make sense of.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer
More than 20 people witnessed the shootings, Dyer said. In addition to the four murder charges, Muhammad will face at least two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.
“This is not indicative of Fresno,” Dyer said. “We have a community that is filled with good people – people that are compassionate, loving and caring.”
Based on Muhammad’s apology and statements to police, Dyer said, he was aware of what he had done and of sound mind. Dyer did not believe Muhammad was taking any medications or undergoing mental health treatment.
Muhammad was on federal probation until September stemming from a 2006 conviction for crack cocaine distribution and weapons charges. Court documents indicate he has been hospitalized several times for mental illness.
Police have not recovered a murder weapon, but Dyer confirmed the same ammunition caliber – .357 – was used in the Motel 6 and Fulton Street murders. Investigators recovered several speed loaders, which are used to reload revolvers, at the Fulton crime scene, but they have not found the gun. They believe someone may have picked it up in passing. Based on evidence, it appears Muhammad had two bullets left in the murder weapon when he discarded it, Dyer said.
Between 80 to 90 police officers and detectives are investigating the murders. Detectives believe Muhammad had been living on the streets for at least the last several days, Dyer said. Muhammad told police he had planned to hide out in one of several abandoned homes along Fulton.
Special agent Robert Guyton with the Fresno branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said his agency will assist Fresno police.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, Catholic Bishop Armando Ochoa and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. President Nick Stavropoulos also spoke, thanking Fresno police for their rapid response and offering condolences to the victims’ families.
“Fresno stands united against violence and in compassion for the victims,” Brand said. “And for this one senseless act of violence, every day there are thousands of acts of compassion and goodwill in this community.”