FRESNO, Calif. — 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 charity center. The third was at a bus stop with a friend, waiting for a ride home.
All three were randomly shot dead by a black gunman, Kori Ali Muhammad, who wanted to kill as many white people as possible and was proud of what he had done, laughing as he explained his actions in interviews with police, authorities said Wednesday.
“That’s what he set out to do that day. He said he did not like white men and said white people were responsible for keeping black people down,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
The men were at the wrong place at the wrong time Tuesday.
Zackary Randalls was the first to die when Muhammad, 39, walked up to a Pacific Gas & Electric truck and fired into the passenger seat. Randalls, 34, had just started work as a customer-service representative and was doing a ride-along, something he was excited about, friend Eddie Valencia said. He described the father of two preschoolers as an open-minded person with a sharp wit and big heart.
“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.”
Muhammad also shot Mark Gassett, 37, of Fresno, who had just picked up groceries at a Catholic Charities building. The gunman pumped two more rounds into Gassett as he lay on the ground, police said.
Gassett’s ex-wife Lisa Gassett told The Fresno Bee that he had faced hard times but had been working to improve his life. The couple has two children.
“He would give his shirt off his back for anybody,” she told the newspaper. “That is the kind of guy he was.”
Next, Muhammad shot toward a bus stop where he had spotted three white men, police said. They scattered, and Muhammad picked the one who was older and appeared heavier: David Jackson, 58, of Fresno.
Jackson’s roommate said they were waiting for a bus home after going to the bank and then stopping to use the bathroom at Catholic Charities.
Mark Greer, 62, said Jackson tripped over a curb in the parking lot, falling down when he was shot. Greer was able to get away.
“I was too fast for him, but David couldn’t run that good,” he said.
Muhammad was arrested shortly after the rampage. He was expected to be charged with four counts of murder and arraigned Friday.
Police say the shooter was candid in explaining the crimes that began Thursday night, when he killed another white man, a motel security guard, and culminated Tuesday, when he fired 17 rounds in less than two minutes and killed the three men on the same block.
Francine Williams, mother of security guard Carl Williams, 25, described her son as a kind and giving person who had recently gotten engaged.
Williams worked at Toys “R” Us and was at his second job at a Motel 6 when Muhammad shot him multiple times after an argument, police and his mother said. Muhammad told investigators he felt disrespected.
Francine Williams said Wednesday that she was in shock but also at peace because she got to tell her son how much she loved him and how proud he made her a few days before his death. He told her he loved her, too.
“So, I’m very, very, very grateful that I was able to say goodbye, maybe not at that moment, but prior to that,” she said.
Muhammad had a long criminal history and filled his social media feeds with posts about black separatism, reparations and “white devils.” He told his family there was a war going on between blacks and whites in America.
He claimed insanity after being charged with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute in 2005, and his attorney requested a psychiatric examination, saying Muhammad “appeared eccentric with some bizarre beliefs.”
He had at least two prior mental health hospitalizations, and his attorney said in court papers that Muhammad thought the justice system and his own lawyer were conspiring against him.
Muhammad told investigators he is Muslim but prays to seven different gods and has not been to a mosque in 25 years. Police said he hid out in a ravine after the motel shooting and practiced voodoo rituals.
When he learned he was wanted in the security guard killing, Muhammad decided to take out as many other white men as possible before he was caught, Dyer said. The suspect showed no remorse, police said.
Muhammad “is not a terrorist but he is a racist,” Dyer said.
Associated Press writers Kristin J. Bender, Janie Har and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco and Mike Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.