The fatal shootings of three white men Tuesday morning in downtown Fresno are being investigated as hate crimes, and the suspect, a 39-year-old African American man named Kori Ali Muhammad, was known to friends and family for his vocal hatred of white people, and for possibly being mentally ill. As the Associated Press reports, Muhammad shouted "Allahu akbar" as he was being arrested, however Fresno police have made clear that this was not an act of terrorism.
Muhammad went on his shooting spree after a couple of days of erratic seeming behavior and hate-filled messages posted to social media, and police also suspect Muhammad was responsible for the shooting of a white security guard last week, brining his possible kill total to four.
The killings began at 10:45 a.m. with a PG&E worker whom Muhammad allegedly walked up and shot as he was sitting in the passenger seat of his truck. The driver the truck, a fellow PG&E worker who is Latino, drove off unharmed, but the victim, a 34-year-old man, died from his injuries. The driver proceeded quickly to a police station to report what had happened.
Muhammad is then believed to have walked on through downtown Fresno, shooting at another white person and missing, sparing two women in a car who were Latina, and then fatally shooting two more white men, aged 37 and 58, all within less than two minutes before he was taken into custody by police. He allegedly fired a total of 16 rounds in four locations, as the LA Times reports, and as officers arrested him he said, "I did it. I shot them," according to Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
Per the LA Times, Muhammad was born Kori Taylor and changed his name to Kori Ali Muhammad as a teenager, likely as he became interested in the teachings of the Nation of Islam an African American group labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
A grandmother who raised him in a predominantly white neighborhood of Fresno, 81-year-old Glenestene Taylor, tells the LA Times that she couldn't recall her grandson ever expressing any racial animus about anyone. "He would say something derogatory about anybody, didn’t matter about the color,” she said. “If he didn’t like what they did, he didn’t like what they did no matter the color."
But his social media presence tells a different story over the last few days, in particular posts made on Facebook on an account that appears to be his referring to "white devils," and on Saturday, writing, "LET BLACK PEOPLE GO OR THE DOOM INCREASES REPARATIONS & SEPARATION NOW."
Glenestene Taylor says she saw Muhammad on Sunday, and that he was crying saying something about having to move away to another city.
On Monday he wrote to Facebook “MY KILL RATE INCRESASES TREMENDOUSLY ON THE OTHER SIDE ASÈ ALLAH U AKBAR.”
And, Muhammad was already on the Fresno Police Department's radar, and was a prime suspect in last week's shooting. According to the AP, they had issued an alert prior to Tuesday's shooting spree saying that Muhammad was armed and dangerous, and that he was wanted in the shooting death of 25-year-old Carl Williams, a security guard at a Motel 6.
In 2005, after being indicted on drug charges in Fresno, Muhammad was ultimately ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial, as the LA Times reports. According to court documents, he "suffered auditory hallucinations and had at least two prior mental health hospitalizations." His criminal record dates back to 1998.
Muhammad's own father, Vincent Taylor, told the Times "that his son believed that he was part of an ongoing war between whites and blacks, and that 'a battle was about to take place.'" And Taylor said he was glad Muhammad was apprehended, because he was afraid there could have been more bloodshed.
Says Chief Dyer, "If in fact he’s lashing out at white people white males in this case that would constitute a hate crime. We believe it is a hate crime, definitely a hate crime."