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Facebook may hold clues to Tulsa shooting suspects' motives

April 08, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Alvin Watts, left, and Jake England were arrested Sunday in connection with several shootings in Tulsa, Okla.
Alvin Watts, left, and Jake England were arrested Sunday in connection… (Tulsa Police )

Houston —

Investigators were probing the backgrounds and Facebook pages of two white men arrested early Sunday in connection with a series of fatal shootings in Tulsa that may have targeted blacks.

Police responding to an anonymous tip arrested Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, both of Tulsa, about 2 a.m. outside a home north of the city, near where the shootings had occurred, Tulsa Police spokesman Jason Willingham told The Times.

The pair were unarmed and cooperated with arresting officers, Willingham said. He would not discuss what evidence was recovered from the suspects or the houses, but at a Sunday briefing, investigators said they had recovered a weapon and a truck.

Willingham said the truck was registered to England, but declined to say what type of weapon was recovered.

The city of about 400,000 in northeast Oklahoma has a history of racial unrest dating to the Tulsa race riot of 1921, which destroyed the then-thriving Greenwood District, known as "the black Wall Street."

The pair were expected to be charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill in connection with five shootings beginning Friday that killed three people and injured two more, Willingham said.

The suspects were being held without bail at the Tulsa jail.

Those killed were Dannaer Fields, 49, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31, all cut down as they were walking within a few miles of each other on Tulsa's predominantly black north side.

Investigators said Sunday they were reviewing England’s Facebook page, which indicated he may have targeted blacks after his father was shot and killed by a black man. The shootings coincided with the second anniversary of his father's death.

"There is a link between the two," Willingham said. "Was that his only motive? We don't know. We’re assuming that was a driving force."

England's Facebook page appeared to have been taken down Sunday, but the Daily Mail and others posted screen shots and quotations from it.

“I’m gone in the head. Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” England wrote on the page Thursday, using a racial slur to refer to the person who shot his father.

Carl England, 47, was shot April 5, 2010, during a fight about a quarter-mile east of where Allen's body was found. The man arrested in connection with Carl England's shooting was Pernell Demond Jefferson, a convicted felon. Jefferson was convicted of pointing a firearm and is serving a prison sentence through October 2014, according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections records.

After the recent shootings, Jake England -- who described himself on Facebook as a Tulsa native who attended high school in Sperry, about 10 miles north of the city -- wrote on his page, “I do believe it just mite be the time to call it quits... I'm done. If something does happen tonite, be ready for another funeral.”

Watts, who according to his own Facebook page is self-employed, originally from Muskogee and living in Sperry, posted frequently on England’s page, calling him “my bro” and sending messages of support after his father’s killing.

It was not clear whether England and Watts had attorneys, Willingham said.

FBI Special Agent Clay Simmonds said it was too early to say whether the shootings were hate crimes or warranted federal charges because investigators, “haven't fully determined what the motive was.” He noted that investigators said the targets appeared to be random.

The arrests came as a result of Operation Random Shooter, a task force of about 30 members of the Tulsa police force and lawmen from the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI. Investigators worked around the clock to find the shooters and allay fears.

“We wanted the community to know we were taking this very seriously,” Willingham said.

Investigators believe the pair acted alone, Willingham said, but he urged local residents to remain vigilant about their safety.

“We’re pretty certain that we have the shooters, but we’ve still got a lot of investigation to do,” he said.

Willingham credited black community leaders with aiding the investigation rather than encouraging vigilante violence.

“They encouraged the community to get behind us,” he said, adding that he hopes leaders who backed police are pleased with their quick work.

“To have a series of crimes like this, five shootings where you have nothing to go on and within 48 hours we have two suspects in custody, is pretty remarkable,” Willingham said.

After the arrests on Easter Sunday, black community leaders said they were pleased with the massive police response and quick action.

During a Sunday memorial service for the shooting victims at North Peoria Church of Christ in Tulsa, the Rev. Warren Blakney, the church's minister and president of the Tulsa NAACP, thanked investigators and sent a message of racial unity.

“I should say to those that may be listening across the country,” Blakney said, according to the Tulsa World, “we are one America.”

Blakney could not be reached late Sunday.

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