(Headline USA) The Democrat mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, held a midnight press conference on Thursday to address the city’s rapidly escalating crime epidemic after an apparently random shooting spree terrorized citizens.
The shooting spree came on the heels of an abduction, rape and murder case earlier in the week involving a kindergarden teacher and mother of two.
“This is no way for us to live and it is not acceptable,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who later pounded the podium as he demanded accountability.
Accused gunman Ezekiel Kelly, 19, livestreamed himself driving around Memphis shooting at people, killing four and wounding three others.
The hours-long rampage also involved at least two carjackings before Kelly was arrested without incident after crashing a stolen car at around 9 p.m. Wednesday, Memphis Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said.
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 livestreaming himself threatening to cause harm to citizens, Davis said.
In one clip from the video, the suspect casually speaks to the camera before opening the door to an AutoZone store and shooting someone inside with what appeared to be a pistol. That man was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
In another, a man narrates himself driving—“green light, green light”—and sings “no faking.” At one point, he fires two rapid bursts of gunfire out the driver’s window while driving.
Referring to police, he says he’s going to “go down to the valley, shoot it out with them in the valley.”
Three more shootings and two carjackings followed after police 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.
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.
As the shooter terrorized the city, buses stopped running, campuses closed and the Memphis Redbirds cleared the field during their minor-league baseball game. Friends and relatives frantically called and texted each other and TV stations cut into regular coverage with updates.
Facebook parent company Meta said Thursday that it detected and removed the suspected shooter’s livestream before Memphis police sent their initial alert, but the company declined to say for how long the live video was streaming.
The company said it also removed the suspect’s Facebook account and has been continuously removing content such as copies of the video or messages praising the attack.
Police did not discuss a motive or release the identities of those 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 Saturday slaying of Eliza Fletcher, a jogger abducted and killed during her pre-dawn run.
Fletcher’s alleged assailant, Cleotha Abston–Henderson, had received an early release from prison two years ago and was well known to police with a rap sheet that included prior abductions and sexual assaults.
The outrage prompted an impassioned monologue from Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Embattled Memphis officials scrambled to defend themselves—and point fingers elsewhere—after Wednesday’s horror compounded city residents’ feelings of grief and fear.
“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.”
One of the news anchors covering the unfolding tragedy broke down in tears as she appeared on camera reflecting on the crime wave.
— Andrew Bartolotta #powertheGOOD (@andrewjpg) September 8, 2022
Like Abston–Henderson, Kelly benefited from an early-release arrangement from a soft-on-crime prosecutor, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy.
Although Mulroy, a Democrat, was not among the list of at least 25 blue-city prosecutors funded and supported by billionaire oligarch George Soros, he was elected in August after arguing that Tennessee’s sentencing law drives up the state’s prison budget without reducing crime or helping incarcerated people rehabilitate.
Kelly was released early from a prison sentence for aggravated assault, court records show, raising a sore point between the city’s mayor and the county’s top prosecutor that played out before the cameras Thursday’s early-morning news conference.
“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,” Strickland said.
In February 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, court records show.
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, the mayor said. Given the time he spent awaiting a resolution of his charges, he likely got credit for time served and spent more than two years behind bars.
Strickland thanked legislators for closing what he called a revolving door by passing Tennessee’s so-called “truth in sentencing” law this year.
The statute, which took effect after Kelly was freed, requires serving entire sentences for various felonies, including attempted first-degree murder, vehicular homicide resulting from the driver’s intoxication and carjacking.
“From now on, three years for aggravated assault means three years,” the mayor said. “We need the courts and additional state laws to stop this revolving door and I need the public to make their voices heard by those decision makers.”
Standing beside him was Mulroy, who had no role in Kelly’s prior prosecution and sentence.
“I don’t want to get into a protracted policy debate tonight,” Mulroy said. “I think tonight is a night for grieving and coming together and expressing concern about this horrific week that we’ve had. I can say in general what I’ve been saying all along—that repeat violent offenders require a tough response.”
Mulroy then repeated his call for a holistic approach including rehabilitation as well as long sentences, so that people leave prison with the skills they need to avoid returning to lives of crime.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press