Three men were killed Tuesday morning in a Fresno shooting rampage that police say was carried out by a man they had identified only hours earlier as the suspect in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motel security guard last week.
The 39-year-old suspect, identified as Kori Ali Muhammad, opened fire on four men, hitting three and missing the fourth, before he was taken into custody, police Chief Jerry Dyer said. Muhammad, who is facing four counts of murder for Tuesday’s shootings and the shooting last Thursday at Motel 6 and also two counts of attempted murder, shouted “Ali Akbar” after he spotted approaching officers and dove to the ground on Fulton Street, Dyer said.
Dyer said that it’s too soon to determine if the shooting rampage was terrorism-related. However, a review of Muhammad’s social media shows he quoted the phrase “Allahu Akbar” in a tweet. The Arabic phrase translates to “God is the greatest.”
In addition, Muhammad’s Facebook posts indicated that “he does not like white people, and he has anti-government sentiments,” the chief said. The four men who were targeted Tuesday were white, Dyer said.
Dyer noted that in Thursday’s shooting at Motel 6, which was caught on surveillance video, Muhammad did not make similar statements. “What we know is that this was a random act of violence,” Dyer said. “There is every reason to believe he acted alone.”
Survivors and witnesses said they were overcome with panic and fear during and after the shootings. Witnesses reported the gunman sprayed rounds while reloading and cursing.
At Catholic Charities just north of downtown, about a dozen distraught people cried, moaned and hugged one another as several undercover police officers worked furiously to keep the shooting victim alive by pumping on his chest. Blood from the gunshot wounds flooded the ground nearby.
“It could have been me,” moaned one man. “I ran. He couldn’t get away,” he added, pointing to the victim as an ambulance sped toward the shooting, driving the wrong way up Fulton with siren blaring.
“Give us some room! Move back,” shouted a woman, apparently a worker at the charity, where people line up daily to seek food and necessities. It’s an area where misery and petty crime happen every day, but nothing like this.
A witness who lives close to Catholic Charities and who did not want to be identified said he watched the chaos unfold from his front yard as the suspect, carrying a large-caliber revolver, shot a man repeatedly in a front yard on the west side of Fulton Street north of Nevada Avenue. Then he stopped and calmly ejected spent shell casings from the weapon and reloaded near a bus stop south of Nevada.
“The shells are still there,” the witness said, pointing them out.
The suspect then walked south on Fulton, where he opened fire on a man in the Catholic Charities parking lot, the witness said.
“He didn’t look like a gangbanger or anything,” the witness said.
Fresno police first learned of the shooting rampage through the department’s ShotSpotter gunfire detection system, Dyer said. The first report was logged about 10:45 a.m. in the 300 block of North Van Ness Avenue when the gunman walked up to a Pacific Gas & Electric pickup and opened fire on the passenger, shooting him repeatedly and mortally wounding him. Within seconds, Dyer said, the gunman had moved west on Mildreda Street, firing at but missing a resident, and then to Fulton Street, where he fired several rounds at another man, striking and killing him. The gunman reloaded at a bus stop and then killed a man in the parking lot of Catholic Charities in the 100 block of North Fulton, he said.
Officers responding to the ShotSpotter report saw Muhammad running south on Fulton and took him into custody, Dyer said. Although police found rounds of .357 caliber bullets and speed loaders for a revolver when Muhammad was taken into custody, no weapon was found, he said.
Nearby Fresno County government offices went on lockdown and employees were urged to shelter in place. At least one agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was at the Fulton Street shooting scene, and agents from Homeland Security were outside Fresno police headquarters. Dyer said the FBI also was notified about the shootings.
The man shot in the PG&E truck was identified as a company employee. In a statement Tuesday afternoon, PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles said: “Our hearts are very heavy today, as we have lost a member of our PG&E family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our employee, and all those impacted by this tragic event.”
After the PG&E worker was shot, his coworker drove the pickup to police headquarters on M Street in downtown Fresno, and from there he was taken to Community Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, Dyer said.
The other shooting victims may have been clients of the social service agency, not employees, Dyer said.
The shootings broke out about two hours after police had named Muhammad as the suspect in the slaying of security guard Carl Williams last Thursday at the Motel 6 on Blackstone Avenue near Ashlan Avenue. Williams, 25, was shot multiple times. The police bulletin said Muhammad should be considered armed and dangerous.
Dyer was asked at a news conference why police waited until Tuesday to name Muhammad as the Motel 6 shooting suspect, even though police were able to identify him quickly from surveillance video at the motel.
“We were exhausting some follow-up leads, some sightings, including one in Madera, and we also put out alerts to all officers and law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for him,” Dyer said. “At one point he posted on Facebook he was in Atlanta, which was not true.”
Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno said the attack is against the Muslim faith.
“We denounce and reject in the strongest words possible this kind of violence and attack,” Ghazvini said, “and we request law enforcement agencies investigate the reasons and motivations about the person himself. He’s not known in our community, and we are in touch with other communities to see if he was a member or not. At this time, we are collecting information to see who is this person. … We have a very active relationship with all branches of state and federal law enforcement agencies in the Valley to make them aware of possible extremism within our area.”
Ghazvini said the literal translation of “Allahu Akbar” means “God is the greatest.” It is used during prayers and “unfortunately the same term is being used in an evil manner by extremists and terrorists trying to give some kind of religious legitimacy to their acts – we strongly denounce this.
“We do use this term during our prayer and calls for prayer, and we use it to pray to God and ask for healing people and bringing peace … the way it is being used by extremist and violent people is actually against our faith and is a misrepresentation of the word.”