Authorities mum on investigation into Wilkinsburg killings
Assailants still at large in Wilkinsburg killings
March 12, 2016 12:00 AM
Mylar balloons are tied to a telephone pole as a memorial in front of 1304 Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg.
By Andrew Goldstein and Madasyn Czebiniak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Investigators continued to conduct interviews Friday in the investigation of the ambush slaying of five people and an unborn child at a backyard cookout in Wilkinsburg, but authorities refused to say whether any progress had been made.
At a short press briefing Friday afternoon, Allegheny County police Lt. Andrew Schurman would say only that, “At this point the investigation is very active and ongoing.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., during a visit to the Franklin Avenue crime scene Thursday, had indicated that Lamont Powell, one of the three people wounded in the shooting, may have been a target, but police would not expound on that possibility Friday.
"Detectives have a number of theories they are working with,” said Mike Manko, spokesman for Mr. Zappala’s office. “However, such a theory would do little to explain the indiscriminate shooting and killing of the other victims."
Asked whether the DA’s office had been updated on the investigation, Mr. Manko said, ”I have nothing fresh that I can add.”
The close-to-the-vest approach is in line with a strategy that law enforcement agencies mapped out the day after the shootings.
“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,” Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said at a news conference Thursday.
He refused to say whether police were looking for anyone described as “a person of interest.”
”There’s some that we’re more interested in than others,” he said.
On Friday, county police issued a news release that said only:
“If there is a major development, a press conference will be held... At this point in the investigation, there is no new information being released. Further, the department will not be commenting on the many rumors and/or theories circulating.”
County police are working with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Superintendent Moffatt said authorities are looking for two shooters based on the crime scene and bullet fragments recovered from the victims.
The assailants used a .40-caliber handgun and an assault-style rifle, but no weapons have been found, he said.
Authorities on Friday also declined to release updates on the conditions of Mr. Powell and John Ellis, who remain at UPMC Mercy. A hospital spokeswoman said information on patients involved in violent crimes is not released.
Those killed in the assault were 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.
A tip line — 1-800-283-4867 — has netted several calls, Lt. Schurman said. The ATF is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.
Lighthouse Cathedral Pastor Maurice Trent, the spokesman for the victims’ families, said Friday that he did not know whether Mr. Powell had been able to talk to investigators.
“I can only go [with] what Mom said [Thursday]. They have [Mr. Powell] in an induced coma, and I know that he’s supposed to be having more surgeries.”
He said the family is ”staying strong for the sake of the grandchildren,” some of whom were in the house during the ambush.
Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said the release of any additional information “will depend on how the investigation moves forward.”
At the shooting scene at 1304 Franklin Ave., a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, flowers, candles and balloons continued to grow on the front porch Friday.
At one point in the afternoon, a woman came out of a neighboring house and walked into the backyard where the victims were shot.
“Why would you do this? Why would you do this?” she screamed to no one in particular before coming back around the house and breaking down in tears on the front steps at the memorial.
Donations through Citizens Bank in the name of Shelton-Powell Memorial Fund are being accepted to help pay for funeral expenses.
Services for Jerry Michael Shelton and Brittany and Chanetta Powell will be held at the Calvin Sheffield Funeral Home on the North Side, Pastor Trent said. Dates and times for those services had not been set.
Community leaders and residents have scheduled a town hall meeting for 1 p.m. today at South Avenue United Methodist Church.
Andrew Goldstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1352 Madasyn Czebiniak: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1269. Dan Majors contributed.
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