A gunman who livestreamed himself driving around Memphis shooting at people, killing four and wounding three others in seemingly random attacks, was finally arrested after crashing a stolen car, police said early Thursday.
The hours-long rampage had police warning people across the city to shelter in place, locking down a baseball stadium and university campuses and suspending public bus services as frightened residents wondered where the man might strike next.
The shooter, identified as 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly, a violent felon who was released early from prison this year, was taken into custody at around 9 p.m. in the Memphis neighborhood of Whitehaven, police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said. He was charged with first-degree murder early Thursday, NBC News reports.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ" Davis said during a news conference early Thursday that four people were killed and three others were wounded in seven shootings and at least two carjackings.
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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland called it a "senseless murder rampage."
The first killing was at 12:56 a.m. Wednesday, and officers responded to three more crime scenes before receiving a tip at 6:12 p.m. that the suspect was recording and livestreaming himself on Facebook threatening to cause harm to citizens, Davis said.
Police then sent out an alert warning people to be on the lookout for an armed and dangerous man responsible for multiple shootings and reportedly recording his actions on Facebook.
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Three more shootings and two carjackings followed. Police said he killed a woman in Memphis as he took her grey Toyota SUV, which he left behind when he stole a man's Dodge Challenger across the state line in Southaven, Mississippi.
The gunman was arrested without incident two hours after the initial police alert when he crashed the Challenger during a high speed chase, and two guns were found in the vehicle, Davis said.
“Many families were shattered tonight,” Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said at a news conference early Thursday.
As the shooter terrorized Memphis, public bus service was suspended and a downtown stadium where a minor-league baseball game was underway was placed on lockdown. Friends and relatives frantically called and texted each other to check on each others' safety. TV stations cut into regular coverage to keep viewers updated.
Police received “numerous tips” from the public during the ordeal, Davis said.
The University of Memphis sent a message to students saying a shooting had been reported near the campus. Rhodes College, which is about 4 miles away from the university, advised students on and off campus to shelter in place.
The area where the gunman was arrested was about 11 miles from the University of Memphis and about 12 miles from Rhodes College.
“If you do not have to be out, stay indoors until this is resolved," Memphis police said on Twitter, before the arrest.
Police did not discuss a motive or release the identities of those who were killed or wounded. It was too early in the investigation to discuss how the suspect got the gun or guns used in the shootings, said Ali Roberts, acting assistant special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Memphis.
Memphis has been shaken by several high-profile killings in recent weeks, including the shooting of a pastor during a daylight carjacking in her driveway, the shooting of an activist during an argument over money, and the slaying of a woman who was abducted while she was on a pre-dawn run.
“I understand it feels like so much violence and evil to experience in such a short time," Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle said on Twitter. “We are SO much more than this.”
Court records show in February of 2020, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, using a firearm to commit a dangerous felony and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon. Circumstances of the case were not immediately known.
Records show he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced in April 2021 to three years. Kelly was released from prison in March, 11 months after he was sentenced, Mayor Strickland said.
“This is no way for us to live and it is not acceptable,” the mayor said at a news conference Thursday morning. “If Mr. Kelly served his full three-year sentence, he would still be in prison today and four of our fellow citizens would still be alive.”