6 Dead, 3 Wounded In 'Brutal' Wilkinsburg Shooting

Mar 10, 2016

The backyard of the home at 1304 Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg where gunman opened fire on a party late Wednesday night.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Updated 3:37 p.m.  

When Carl Morris orders pizza, delivery drivers ask which side of Ardmore Boulevard he lives on. He tells them it's the east side of Franklin Avenue -- the "good half of Wilkinsburg."

Morris and family huddled in their home late Wednesday night when at least two shooters opened fire on a backyard party across the street at 1304 Franklin Ave. The pair killed six people and injured three in the borough just east of Pittsburgh.

Jerry Shelton, 35; Brittany Powell, 27; Chanetta Powell, 25, who was eight months pregnant; Tina Shelton, 37; and Shada Mahone, 26, were killed during the party in the borough just outside of Pittsburgh. Allegheny County police said people scrambled toward the house as bullets began flying. Four victims were found dead on the back porch. The fifth died at a hospital.

Three others were injured and taken to area hospitals. Two men were in critical condition and a woman was stable, police said Thursday morning.

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said the victims were targeted.

"(The shooters) knew right where they were going," Moffatt said. 

When asked if the shooters are still in the area, Moffatt said, "I have no reason to believe they're not." 

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala addresses reporters outside of the Wilkinsburg house where the shooting took place.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala called it a "brutal murder" at a press briefing on Thursday. Police believe the incident was "very targeted" and possibly drug related, though Zappala said very few drugs were found in the home. Zappala cited retaliation as another possible motive. Two gunmen fled on foot.

Lt. Andrew Schurman of the Allegheny County homicide unit said the gunmen ambushed partygoers from two distinct locations. Officials said the shooters used an AK-47 and .40 caliber guns. Police said they found 49 cases from the two guns at the scene. Detectives don't believe anyone at the party fired back, he said.

"It looks like right now they were all fleeing toward the backdoor of the residence when the second gunman fired from the side of the yard," he said. "They all seemed to get caught on the back porch."

Zappala also said some physical evidence was found at the scene, which has been sent out for DNA testing. He called the finding important to the investigation and said, "We're fortunate to have that." 

Zappala said surveillance video taken from a nearby BP gas station could also help in identifying the suspects. 

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, officials said the ATF was offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

A quiet neighborhood

Leroy Hicks Jr., leaned against a utility pole in front of his home three houses down from the two-story, brick rental home where Brittany Powell lived with her young daughter -- aged about 6 or 7, according to neighbors -- for about four months.

Police suspect that two gunmen fled on foot.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

As associate pastor at First Galilee Baptist Church, he said he has a pulse on the neighborhood. That heartbeat doesn't include the two bursts of shots that broke through the silence around 11 p.m. Wednesday. The second wave, he said, sounded it like a large caliber weapon, he said.

After that, "it was total chaos," he said.

Hicks said he knew a young man who lived in the house, but wasn't sure if he was one of the victims and hoped he wasn’t among them. This sort of thing doesn't happen here, he said.

"It's a very quiet neighborhood," Hicks said.

After the shooting, groups of residents gathered on the street, some of them sobbing and saying they lost family members.

Vehicles from the medical examiner's office arrived in the neighborhood early Thursday to remove the victims' bodies.

Hicks said local reverends plan to hold a meeting in the neighborhood later Thursday or Friday.

George Spencer is with the anti-violence activist group MAD DADs and lives nearby. He went to the scene around midnight to comfort witnesses, family members and friends.

“This was primarily just broken people, broken hearted people, highly concerned about whether their child or family member had perished in this," Spencer said.

"They were all head shots, too"

Onlookers Thursday stepped past shredded yellow crime scene tape to the now deserted property near the corner of Franklin and Ardmore where beer cans and overturned chairs still littered the blood-spattered back lawn.

Survivors told police the shooters moved people in the backyard to a point down at the end of a fence where one man stood waiting with an automatic weapon, Zappala said Thursday.

He called it one of the most brutal murders he's seen in 18 years as DA.

“An AK-47 type weapon, a .762 caliber weapon," Zappala said. "And it wasn’t like he was just squeezing off shots randomly, as they came in range… They were all head shots, too.”

The crime was premeditated, he said.

"It was calculated; it was planned. It’s just a brutal murder. It’s one of the most brutal I’ve seen," he said. "I haven’t seen something like this during my tenure.”

90.5 WESA reporters Deanna Garcia, Noah Brode and Sarah Kovash contributed to this report.