At first, Edna Lopez thought the two loud bangs were car backfires. She looked around, then spotted a black man with a white hat, a black jacket – and a gun.
Lopez told her daughter, Serina Carrillo, to get back in their car. There’s been a shooting, she said. Lopez looked down the street and briefly lost sight of the gunman. Then, as Carrillo started the engine and began backing up, he reappeared, came toward them and pulled out his gun again.
Lopez thought they were all going to get shot.
On Tuesday, Lopez, her daughter and 4-year-old grandson were the lucky ones. They were among the few survivors who found themselves in the middle of Kori Ali Muhammad’s shooting rampage just north of downtown Fresno.
Lopez and Carrillo recounted their experience in an interview Saturday at their southeast Fresno home, and talked about how it continues to affect them days later.
Muhammad is accused of shooting and killing three white men in a matter of minutes along Van Ness Avenue and Fulton Street, north of Divisadero Street, before he tossed away his gun and surrendered to police Tuesday morning. Fresno police said that although Muhammad pointed his gun at Lopez, he did not try to kill her and her daughter because they are not white. In court on Friday, Muhammad yelled “Let black people go” before he was taken away for a psychiatric evaluation.
Three men were killed that morning: Mark Gassett, David Jackson and Zackary Randalls. Muhammad is also accused of killing a fourth man, Carl Williams III, a guard at the Motel 6 on Blackstone Avenue, on April 13. Williams’ funeral was held Saturday. (An earlier version of the story misspelled Randalls’ first name as Zachary.)
On Saturday, Lopez and Carrillo said they were still shaken by Tuesday’s events.
That morning, Carrillo, 27, had driven to a paralegal office with her mother to pick up divorce papers, said Lopez, 49. When they arrived at the 900 block of Mildreda Avenue just after 10:30 a.m., Carrillo stepped out of the vehicle. Lopez was still inside getting her purse together. Carrillo’s son, Jason, was in the back seat.
He looked angry.
Edna Lopez, recalling the man who pointed a gun at her and her daughter
“As she was getting off, I heard ‘pow,’ like that, and then I heard ‘pow,’ ” Lopez remembered. Lopez, who said she has tunnel vision, couldn’t see where the sound came from. She first thought it could be a car backfiring, only a lot louder.
When Lopez looked ahead, she noticed a man holding a gun and trying to tuck it under his clothing. He appeared to be heading straight for them as he walked west from the corner of Van Ness and Mildreda avenues before he disappeared, she said. Lopez immediately starting calling for her daughter to get back inside the car, which she feared would be stolen by the suspect as a getaway car following the two shots she had heard.
“As she was getting in, he reappeared,” Lopez said. She said the suspect kept looking back as he approached them. Carrillo managed to climb back inside her car before the shooter reached them. When Carrillo put the vehicle in reverse, Lopez said she and the suspect looked at each other through the passenger window for about two seconds as he stood on a mound of grass.
“He looked angry,” Lopez said. She feared he would shoot at them, and while he did point the gun toward the vehicle, Lopez said the man appeared hesitant to fire. Carrillo then placed the vehicle in drive and sped off. That’s when the suspect did fire one round, but it missed their car, Lopez said. She said the area was filled with vehicles, but no other people were in sight.
The women drove to a taqueria at the corner of Belmont and Van Ness avenues. There, Lopez called 911.
“That’s when I started to hear sirens,” she said.
About five minutes after they called police, Lopez said she began to feel pain on her left arm and chest area. She believed she was having a stroke, but her daughter thought she had been shot after she had cried “oh my God” as they were fleeing the shooting.
Carrillo drove her mother to the hospital, where she was checked out and released hours later. Lopez believes the pain came from the frightening encounter.
On Friday, FBI agents visited Lopez. They briefed her on Muhammad’s court appearance and wanted to know how she was doing. Lopez asked the FBI agents if she was in any danger, but they told her she was not. Lopez did not want to show her face after having appeared on TV earlier in the week because she was afraid of being targeted. She said FBI agents offered to help with counseling services to cope with the encounter. Lopez said she expects to arrange that on Monday.
Despite the shooting being carried out by a man who targeted people of a specific color, Carrillo, the daughter, says she hopes counseling can help her avoid making a person’s skin color an issue. The traumatic experience, she said, has left her afraid of encountering other black people. In the hospital, as her mother received X-rays and had blood drawn, Carrillo said she saw a black man in the waiting room and felt scared, thinking he could also have a gun.
“It’s how I feel now and I don’t want to feel that way,” Carrillo said. “When a man passes by, I don’t want to look at them.” Carrillo said she wants her son to understand that one person’s actions don’t determine how everyone behaves. “I don’t want him to think that all black people are like that,” she said.
When Carrillo and Lopez returned Wednesday to the same spot where a day before they had been terrorized, 4-year-old Jason, Carrillo’s son, asked if the man “with the black jacket” was gone, Carrillo said.
Carrillo said her mother’s quick thinking and calm behavior saved all of their lives Tuesday.
“I’m grateful that she thought that fast,” she said. After four days, and having learned that the shooting was targeted, questions about why the suspect did not immediately shoot them seem to be answered.
“We had questions – why was he hesitant (to shoot)? Why did he only shoot once? But the news said it was because we were Hispanic,” Carrillo said.
But Lopez said she still can’t forget about the victims who lost their lives in the shooting spree, targeted because of their skin color.
Lopez said she feels lucky not to have been hurt, but struggles to understand what could lead to the senseless violence. “I just feel sorry for the men that got hurt, and their families,” Lopez said. Crying, she added, “It still affects me.”