FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — One man had just started a new job with the gas company and was riding in a utility truck. Another was carrying a bag of groceries after stopping at a Catholic Charities center. The third man was in the charity’s parking lot.
All three were shot and killed at random by a black gunman who police say wanted to kill as many white people as possible.
Zackary Randalls was the first to die when Kori Ali Muhammad walked up to a Pacific Gas & Electric truck and fired into the passenger seat. The driver sped to the police department for help, but Randalls could not be saved.
Friend Eddie Valencia said Randalls was excited to start work as a customer-service representative and was doing a ride-along Tuesday. He described the 34-year-old as an open-minded person with a sharp wit and a big heart.
He said his friend, who left behind two preschoolers and a wife in Clovis, would not want people to feel anger toward the shooter.
“He wouldn’t want people to be divided by this,” Valencia said. “There were no boundaries with race, religions, beliefs, with anything. If you were a good person and basically could have a good conversation, he would call you a friend. He was a stand-up guy.”
The three men killed Tuesday happened to be on the same block at the same time, but had no known connection to each other or to the shooter, who told police about his goal of killing white people after he was arrested. He is expected to be arraigned Friday.
Mark Gassett, 37, of Fresno, had just picked up groceries at a Catholic Charities building when he was gunned down. His body was draped in a blanket on the sidewalk leading to Stephen Hughes’ home.
“It looks like a guy carrying his groceries home from the store,” said Hughes, 66, who rushed home after receiving a frantic call about the shootings from a neighbor.
David Jackson, 58, of Fresno, was gunned down in the parking lot of the charity’s building.
“These were unprovoked attacks,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
Two Latina women and a child also crossed paths with Muhammad, who pointed the gun at them as they sat in their car trying to flee, but he did not shoot.
Muhammad, 39, was arrested shortly after the rampage. He is expected to be charged with four counts of murder — one each for Tuesday’s three victims plus the slaying of a white Motel 6 security guard who was killed last week.
Police had been looking for Muhammad in the death of the guard, 25-year-old Carl Williams. Muhammad said seeing his name and picture in a news release Tuesday morning helped spur the attacks in which he fired 16 rounds in less than two minutes at four places within a block.
“I did it. I shot them,” Muhammad told officers as they arrested him, according to the chief.
During the arrest, Muhammad shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” but the shootings had “nothing to do with terrorism in spite of the statement he made,” Dyer said.
“This is solely based on race,” he said.
Muhammad told his family there was a war going on between blacks and whites in America. He posted on social media about black separatism, reparations, the “Black Lives Matter” movement and white devils.
Muhammad’s father, Vincent Taylor, told the Los Angeles Times that his son believed he was part of an ongoing war between whites and blacks and that “a battle was about to take place.”
Police were searching for the revolver Muhammad said he tossed into a pile of clothing. The gun may have been picked up by someone else, Dyer said.
On what appeared to be Muhammad’s Facebook page, he repeatedly posted “#LetBlackPeopleGo” and encouraged “black warriors” to “mount up.” A flurry of posts emerged in the past day.
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 said.
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.”
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.
Associated Press writers Kristin J. Bender, Olga R. Rodriguez and Janie Har in San Francisco; Jonathan J. Cooper and Don Thompson in Sacramento; Christopher Weber and Mike Balsamo in Los Angeles; and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York City contributed to this report.