A man wanted in the slaying of a motel security guard set out to kill as many white people as he could, gunning down three men on the streets of downtown Fresno before he was captured and admitted to the killings, the city's police chief said Tuesday.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was motivated by hate and was not connected to extremism, even though he said "Allahu akbar'' during his arrest.
"This is solely based on race, and it had nothing to do with terrorism in spite of the statement he made,'' Dyer said at a news conference.
U.S. & World
Muhammad, who is black, fired 16 rounds in one minute at four places within a block, shooting men who appeared to be going about their day, authorities say.
He walked up to a utility truck and shot a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employee sitting in the passenger seat, authorities say. The driver of the truck, who is Latino, sped off to the police department for help, but the worker, a 34-year-old white man, died.
Muhammad then shot at another person and missed. He aimed at a third, killing the 37-year-old on the sidewalk as he walked with a bag of groceries in a neighborhood lined with tall trees, authorities say. The final victim, 58, was gunned down in the parking lot of a charity building.
Dyer said Muhammad approached a vehicle in between shootings, but he spared the lives of two women who were in the car with a child. The women were Latina, he said.
"These individuals who were chosen today did not do anything to deserve what they got,'' he said earlier in the day. "These were unprovoked attacks by an individual that was intent on carrying out homicides today. He did that.''
Police had put out a news release hours before the shootings Tuesday, saying that Muhammad was armed and dangerous and wanted in the shooting death of a security guard at a Motel 6 last week. The guard, 25-year-old Carl Williams, was white.
Muhammad told officers at his arrest that he was the guy they were looking for, Dyer said.
"I did it. I shot them," Dyer said Muhammad told officers.
Muhammad had posted anti-government comments on social media and said that he disliked white people, police said.
Dyer said Muhammad went by the nickname "Black Jesus" and has a history of making terrorist threats. It does not appear Muhammad is connected to terrorism despite the statement that he made, Dyer said.
The police chief also said Muhammad wanted to kill as many white people as possible before going to jail. He was initially wanted by police in the death of a security guard last week.
When Muhammad surrendered to police he said "I did it. I shot them," according to Dyer.
Investigators said that Muhammed, who is believed to be homeless, made multiple references to "destroying white devil skunks" on his now-removed Facebook page.
The shooting happened outside a Catholic Charities building, but spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez said the charity doesn't believe the suspect was tied to the nonprofit organization. Dyer said the shootings appeared to be random and unprovoked.
Sayed Ali Ghazvini, imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, said Muhammad was not a member of his congregation and he did not recognize him. The imam said he is consulting with other faith leaders.
"We're kind of shocked and surprised for what happened," Ghazvini said. "We are very sorry for this to happen. We offer condolences for the victims, we pray for the victims and their families."
County offices were placed on lockdown and people were urged to shelter in place during the shooting.
The FBI and ATF San Francisco Field Division are assisting Fresno police with the investigation.
Muhammad has a criminal history that includes arrests on weapons, drugs and false imprisonment charges and making terrorist threats. He had been associated with gangs. but he was not a confirmed member, police say.
Muhammad was charged in 2005 with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, court records show. Federal prosecutors said at the time that he was also in possession of a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and two rifles after being convicted of a felony.
He claimed insanity, and his attorney requested a psychiatric examination for his client, saying Muhammad "appeared eccentric with some bizarre beliefs." A psychiatrist who examined Muhammad believed he had psychosis, Muhammad's attorney said in the court filing.
He also "suffered auditory hallucinations and had at least two prior mental health hospitalizations,'' according to court documents. His attorney said that Muhammad had "paranoia'' and thought the justice system and his defense attorney were conspiring against him, court papers said.
The attorney who represented Muhammad in that case did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
Public records list Muhammad as Cory Taylor and other aliases with addresses in Fresno and Sacramento. Fresno's police chief said his former name was Cory McDonald. A woman who identified herself as Taylor's grandmother said Tuesday that the family last saw him on Easter Sunday. She hung up the phone before giving her name.
"I never would have thought he would do anything like this," sad Muhammad's brother, who asked not to be identified by name. "I'm just kind of shocked."
He described his brother as a funny and intelligent man.
Police say two of the victims may have been clients of Catholic Charities, which provides a variety of services for refugees, the homeless and those with disabilities.
NBC Bay Area's Brendan Weber, Riya Bhattacharjee, Rhea Mahbubani and Kristofer Noceda contributed to this story.