The police in Tulsa., Okla., said Sunday they were investigating a rash of shootings as possible hate crimes after arresting two suspects in the deaths of three African-Americans and the wounding of two others.
Acting on anonymous tips, the police arrested Jacob England, 19 years old, and Alvin Watts, 32, around 1:45 a.m. Sunday. They each face three counts of first degree murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill, according to jail booking records.
Their first court appearance is scheduled for Monday. It wasn't clear if the men had lawyers.
Last year, the city of 392,000 commemorated the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of residents of city's then-prospering black community.
The Friday shootings occurred within a few miles of one another in the span of an hour on Tulsa's north side shortly after 1 a.m.
"With these two people off the street, the people in my community, as well as the people in the rest of this city, can feel that they are safer," City Councilman Jack Henderson, who is African-American, said at a news conference with police and other city leaders on Sunday. "I spent a lot of time trying to calm people, 'Don't take matters into your own hands.' "
The police said they recovered a small-caliber weapon when they arrested the men but declined to disclose whether it could be tied to the crimes. They also said they had found the charred remains of a pickup truck north of the city that they believe the suspects had tried to burn. Witnesses, including one victim, said they saw a white man in a pickup who might be the shooter.
"Whether one was the primary shooter and the other one an accomplice, or both equal co-conspirators—these are questions we are still trying to resolve right now," Tulsa Police Capt. Jonathan Brooks said in an interview Sunday.
Police said they were examining social-media evidence as part of their investigation.
Mr. England wrote on his Facebook page that his father had been shot to death on April 5, 2010, by a black man who is now serving a prison sentence for the crime, which was covered by local media. In postings last week, Mr. England used racial slurs to describe his father's killer.
He also made emotional references in online postings to the death of his fiancée in January, drawing concerned responses from some of his Facebook friends, including Mr. Watts.
Police identified the three shooting victims as a woman, Dannaer Fields, 49, and two men, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31, the police said.
Police did not disclose the names of the two wounded victims, who were also African-American, but said they are no longer hospitalized.
"I had campaigned on the promise that we are one Tulsa and all the divisions we had in the past, we need to throw away," Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. said in an interview Sunday. "Obviously all the victims are African-Americans. If there are hate crimes involved here we will pursue the fullest punishment possible with help from the federal authorities."
Authorities assembled a task force of about 30 investigators, including city homicide detectives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to assist in the probe.
The shootings were the worst in recent memory for Tulsa. Like many other cities, it has struggled with budget problems in the aftermath of the recession and had to lay off roughly 11% of its police force early in 2010.