Authorities say the death of an 8-month-old male fetus in a shooting at a backyard cookout near Pittsburgh has been ruled a homicide.
That brings the number of homicides in the late Wednesday night ambush to six.
The dead included three siblings, Brittany Powell, 27, who lived at the home; Jerry Shelton, 35; and Chanetta Powell, 25. The other two were Shada Mahone, 26, and Tina Shelton, 37.
Chanetta Powell was pregnant and due to give birth in May.
The gunmen working as a team fatally shot five people and critically wounded two others at the backyard cookout, with one attacker using a high-velocity rifle to shoot all the victims in the head as they were driven in his direction, a prosecutor said Thursday.
‘The murders were planned. They were calculated, brutal,’ District Attorney Stephen Zappala said.
The gunmen appeared to have targeted one or two of the victims, said Zappala, who added that they hadn’t ruled out drugs as a motive.
The victims killed as they rushed toward the back porch and an alleyway to seek cover as a gunman fired a .40-caliber pistol at as many as 15 adults who were playing cards and having a late-night cookout in the yard.
That steered the victims toward the rear porch and door of the house, where an accomplice armed with a 7.62 mm rifle similar to an AK-47 shot them from behind a chain-link fence less than 10 feet from the porch, Zappala said.
Neither weapon has been found
The man with the rifle aimed high throughout the barrage of bullets. Four of the dead were found on the tiny back porch.
‘They were all head shots,’ Zappala said.
The mother of Brittany and Chanetta Powell and Jerry Shelton says her family was massacred.
A tearful Jessica Shelton said Thursday that it makes no sense for anyone ‘to take people’s lives like that.’
Mrs Shelton added that there were three men at the party that she wasn’t close with, and that she’s suspicious about the fact they escaped unharmed.
She says the other two shot dead were her nieces. Another of her sons’ was critically wounded.
‘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,’ Lt. Andrew Schurman of the Allegheny County homicide unit said. ‘They all seemed to get caught on the back porch.’
Schurman says the gunmen barged into the party and opened fire in an ambush-style attack.
He said gunshots came from two distinct locations but police don’t believe anyone at the party fired back.
Tina Shelton’s father spoke out to WTAE saying she was a ‘good woman’.
‘Everybody that knew her loved her. She was an innocent bystander,’ Vernes Pugh said, adding that his daughter leaves behind three children.
Resident Kayla Alexander tells WPXI-TV that she heard a barrage of gunshots – more than 20 – in the neighborhood which usually is quiet.
Groups of residents gathered on the street, some of them sobbing and saying they lost family members.
‘My baby! My baby!’ one woman at the scene could be heard screaming.
While another woman sat crying on the ground added: ‘They just wanted to kill everybody.’
Carl Morris and his son, Robert, were getting ready to leave their house across the street when they heard a volley of three shots, a pause, then gunfire lasting more than a minute.
Robert Morris said he saw children run onto the small back porch and scream, ‘Mommy, Mommy’.
‘It was terrible,’ the younger Morris said.
The Morrises said a woman in her 20s or 30s lived in the home with at least one daughter. They said the house was considered a ‘safe haven’ in the neighborhood.
The backyard is about 30 feet by 50 feet. Police said they found one pile of shell casings just outside the yard in an alley. They found more shells along a fence that separates the house from a neighbor’s yard, which means a second gunman was less than 10 feet away from the porch where victims ran for cover.
Bullet holes were visible Thursday around the porch addition. Tables and chairs, some tipped over, remained in the backyard, signs of a party quickly abandoned.
Wilkinsburg is a poorer, largely blighted suburb just east of Pittsburgh that is known for drug trafficking and gun violence. But, neighbors described the street on which the shooting occurred as generally quiet and expressed shock.
James Boyd, a neighbor who lived three houses down from the shooting said he was alerted by the sound of gunshots.
He told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: ‘We’ve had trouble in this neighborhood before but never this close to home. I’ve never seen anything like this before.’
While another woman who lives on the street added: ‘This street is always quiet, there’s nothing but kids on this street. To see that, it’s new, and it’s probably shocking to everyone else up here. I’m shaking.’
Vehicles from the medical examiner’s office arrived in the neighborhood early on Thursday to remove the victims’ bodies.
Preliminary reports say that the incident may have started at a party in a backyard in Wilkinsburg on the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue at around 11:00pm, according to WTAE.
Several police departments were on scene, including Allegheny County homicide detectives.
In the wake of hte shooting, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald released a statement expressing his sympathies to the victims and their families.
‘We know that these families’ lives have been changed forever. Over the next few days, I’m certain we will learn more about each of the victims who died and their futures, now cut short. Wilkinsburg is a community filled with grief, shock and anger this morning. We share their grief and offer them our support in the days and weeks to come,’ he said.