Police: 49 shots were fired, most from AK-47; ATF offering $20,000 reward
March 11, 2016 12:40 AM
Mellyora Walker, the sister of victims of the Wilkinsburg shooting, speaks to a reporter at the Lighthouse Church in Mount Oliver on Thursday.
“I’m just heartbroken today,” says Jessica Shelton, mother of four of the victims in the Wilkinsburg shooting, during a news conference Thursday at the Lighthouse Church in Mount Oliver.
Janet Harris, center, prays with other mourners at a vigil in front of 1304 Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg, where five people were killed.
Four of those who died in the Wilkinsburg shooting, clockwise from top left, Jerry Shelton, Brittany Powell, Tina Shelton, and Chanetta Powell.
A mourner leaves candles at a makeshilft memorial on the steps of the scene of the shooting.
Shada Mahone, another victim of the Wilkinsburg shooting.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. visits the scene of the shooting in Wilkinsburg this morning that killed five people and critically wounded two others.
Relatives and friends of the shooting victims gather this morning at the scene in the backyard of a house on Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg.
A woman reacts at the scene of a mass shooting in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday in which five people were killed and at least two critically wounded.
A woman cries at the scene of a mass shooting in Wilkinsburg, where five people were killed and two criticaly wounded.
Distraught family members gathered and caused scuffles trying to gain access to the scene. One woman sat on the ground crying. "They just want to kill everybody," she said.
Police respond to the scene of a mass shooting in Wilkinsburg.
Detectives scour an alley where shots were fired toward the backyard of 1304 Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg.
The view from Hazel Way, where police say the shots were fired, toward the backyard of 1304 Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg.
By Dan Majors and Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The victims of Wednesday night’s horrific shooting at a family cookout in Wilkinsburg never had a chance.
Investigators said Thursday that two shooters — one armed with a .40-caliber handgun and the other with an assault-style rifle — staked out angles behind a pair of backyard fences just before 11 p.m. and mercilessly gunned down their targets, killing six, including an unborn child, and wounding three.
Children inside the house at 1304 Franklin Ave. were not injured.
“[The victims] were herded there on the porch. It was just horrible,” said Chris Taylor, assistant special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is assisting with the investigation.
Clockwise from top left, Jerry Shelton, Brittany Powell, Tina Shelton, and Chanetta Powell. (Facebook)
The shooters approached the house from Hazel Way, an alley behind the home. The shooter in the alley fired a handgun at the group in the backyard, sending the victims running toward the house for cover. The second shooter, positioned at a fence near the back door and armed with the rifle, sprayed them as they went up the porch steps.
“They funneled them onto the porch and then just lit them up,” Agent Taylor said. “It was like a military [operation], like when I was in the Marines. That’s totally what it looked like. They were funneling them. It made them an easy target. Then once the first guy died, he blocked the door and the girls were stuck on the porch and buh-buh-buh-buh, they’re all down there behind him. Thank God the kids were all right.”
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office identified the victims as siblings Jerry Michael Shelton, 35, Brittany Powell, 27, and Chanetta Powell, 25, and their cousins Tina Shelton, 37, and Shada Mahone, 26. Chanetta Powell was eight months’ pregnant.
Two men were in critical condition at UPMC Mercy, though authorities reported some improvement in their conditions. Another woman was treated and released.
Allegheny County homicide Lt. Andrew Schurman said 49 shots were fired, 31 from an AK-47 and 18 from the handgun.
Agent Taylor said the use of the assault rifle at such close range meant some of the shots passed through one victim and into another. One woman had 50 bullet holes in her body, counting entry and exit wounds, he said.
“I’m getting shot with everything you’re getting shot with,” he said, describing the gruesome scene. “When you’re only 5, 6 feet away, the bullets are going through three people, they were so close. That’s why law enforcement [officers carry] ammo that stops in people. We don’t want to shoot somebody and it goes through people.
“But this was like what the Soviet army used to use. This was an AK-47 or something similar to that, based on the shot pattern. ... This is a common rifle you see at gun shows, with the banana clip that bends forward. It’s cheap. You can buy it anywhere.”
Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said police had not recovered the weapons and had “no firm suspects.”
“We have some names that we’re working on, but we don’t want to put that out there because we want to get ahold of the people that we’re looking for without them knowing that we’re looking for them,” he said. “We don’t have enough at this time to make any arrests. We don’t have enough to even mandate that we pull somebody in.”
He added that the shooters, who fled on foot, “knew right where they were going, right what they were doing.”
The ATF is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved. Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (283-4867).
Local police were also being assisted by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration in investigating what Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. called a “planned, calculated and brutal” shooting.
“We haven’t seen something like this for quite some time — if we’ve ever seen this type of planning in terms of planning for taking life,” said Mr. Zappala, who visited the scene Thursday morning. “We think one, maybe two people were targeted. The rest of the people would be fairly characterized as innocent. This was an ambush.”
Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman, who joined county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and county police at a Thursday afternoon news conference, said there had been no reports of previous trouble at the Franklin Avenue address.
PG map: Wilkinsburg shooting (Click image for larger version)
“It’s a pretty quiet street,” she somberly said, promising that the neighborhood would see “beefed-up” patrols for the immediate future. ”We’ve reached out to other communities to assist us in any way they can.”
Jessica Shelton, 50, said during a news conference Thursday at the Lighthouse church in Mount Oliver that she was the mother of Jerry Michael Shelton, and Brittany and Chanetta Powell. She said the other two victims were her nieces.
Ms. Shelton said the family decided to have a cookout Wednesday night because the weather was so pleasant. They gathered at the three-bedroom house that Brittany Powell moved into in September and played dominoes, took pictures, drank a few beers and let the kids run around the tiny backyard.
“It was a nice day,” she said, “so we just called each other on the phone and said, ‘Hey, we’re having a cookout.’”
She said she left the cookout about 9 p.m., then learned of the shooting from a friend who saw it mentioned on the 11 p.m. news.
One of her young grandchildren later told her that he thought he heard fireworks, so he looked out the window.
“I saw Mommy and a man on the ground, so I ran upstairs,” Ms. Shelton recalled her grandson saying. “He said he didn’t want the bad men to get him.”
Brittany Powell is survived by a daughter, Tamorroa. The family had recently celebrated her seventh birthday at a Dave & Buster’s.
In addition to her unborn child, Chanetta Powell had two children, Chloe, 8 months, and Jaron, 6.
Jerry Michael Shelton, of East Liberty, is survived by an 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. Ms. Shelton remembered her son as a mild-mannered provider for his family, including fiancee Barbara Martin, and as a jokester who liked to make prank calls.
Another of Ms. Shelton’s sons, Lamont Powell, was among those wounded at the cookout. He was shot four times, she said. The other male victim was identified as John Ellis, 47. The wounded woman was not identified. A family dog was also shot.
Ms. Shelton said that while she was at the cookout, three men she did not know came by and were welcomed by one of her daughters, but Ms. Shelton left the gathering about two hours before the shooting and did not know what became of them.
“I’m just heartbroken today,” she said while crying. “I got a son in the hospital fighting for his life in critical condition. I can’t imagine losing four [children]. It’s just not right for me to lose four. To lose two beautiful nieces, it just breaks my heart.
“But I know with support of my friends and family we’re going to make it through this. With the prayers, we’re going to make it through this.”
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456. Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944. Staff writers Andrew Goldstein, David Templeton, Karen Kane, Torsten Ove and Michael A. Fuoco contributed.