“Execution.” “Ambush.” “Planned, calculated, brutal.”
Those were the words Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala used as he stood in a Wilkinsburg yard where hours before five adults and an unborn child were systematically shot as they gathered for a cookout.
Saying he hadn’t see this level of planning in a homicide in a long time, he described how one shooter with a .40 caliber pistol herded the victims towards the back door and his accomplice, who was waiting near a gate at the other end of the yard with a 7.62 millimeter semi-automatic rifle.
“It was an ambush, yeah. He pushed them,” he said. “The guy with the 40 starts over here, the casings are moving maybe five or six feet. The guy with the AK is by that fence, and he’s waiting. And he just pushed them toward the door and into the path of the rifle.
“And it wasn’t like he was just squeezing off shot after shot, it was very calculated, very methodical, and they were all head shots. So that concerns us too.”
Zappala said detectives had already discarded a number of theories and possible motives for the attack, but hinted that physical evidence at the scene may lead investigators to one of the two shooters.
Of the victims; Jerry Shelton, 35, Tina Shelton, 37, Brittany Powell, 27, seven-months pregnant Chanetta Powell, 25, and Shada Malone, 26, Zappala said indications are that only one or two were the intended targets.
“Lamont Powell (who is hospitalized with wounds to the neck, chest, back and hand) may have been one of the targets,” he said. “The rest of the people would be fairly characterized as innocent.”
According to witnesses and the county police, the Shelton family and friends had a cookout that went on for most of the day, March 9, with as many as 15 people attending at any given time. There were about 10 people present, including children, when the attack took place around 11:30 p.m.
Jessica Shelton, mother of three of the victims, and aunt to the other two, said as a result of this attack, 11 children don’t have parents—and three were there when the shooting took place
“Brittany had previously lost a daughter, and now I have to tell her only surviving daughter that she not only lost a sister, but now her mother,” said Shelton.
“And the kids were there, that’s the saddest part. My youngest grandson Jeron, who is Chanetta’s oldest son, said, ‘Nana, there was fireworks outside. But then I seen mommy and them laying on the ground, so I didn’t want the bad men to get me so I ran upstairs.’”
County police Lt. Andrew Sherman released a statement reiterating much of what Zappala said, adding an appeal for anyone with information to come forward.
Anyone who was in the area of the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue and saw or heard anything is asked to call the Allegheny County Police Homicide unit at 412-473-1300. Callers can remain anonymous and can also reach the County Police via the county’s social media accounts.
In the wake of the tragedy, a town hall meeting has been scheduled for 1 p.m., March 12 at South Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilkinsburg.
Rashad Byrdsong has also scheduled a “State of Emergency” meeting that same day at 10 a.m. at Community Empowerment Association, 7120 Kelly Street in Homewood.
(More in Wednesday’s print edition.)