MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A gunman who live-streamed himself driving around Memphis shooting people, killing four and wounding three others in seemingly random attacks, was finally arrested after crashing a stolen car, police said early Thursday.
The hours-long rampage prompted police to warn people across the city to evacuate, closing down a baseball field and university campuses and suspending public bus services as frightened residents wondered where the man might strike next.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said four people were killed and three others were wounded in seven shootings and at least two carjackings before Ezekiel Kelly was arrested without incident around 9 p.m.
Kelly, 19, was released early from a prison sentence for aggravated assault, court records show, sparking a sore spot between the city’s mayor and the county’s top attorney who appeared before cameras at a news conference early Thursday .
“This is no way to live and it’s not acceptable,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who later pounded the podium as he demanded accountability. “If Mr. Kelly had served his three-year sentence, he would still be in prison today and four of our fellow citizens would still be alive,” he said.
The first killing occurred at 12:56 am. on Wednesday and officers responded to three more crime scenes before receiving a tip at 6:12 p.m. that the suspect was live-streaming himself threatening to harm civilians, Davis said.
In a clip from the video, the suspect speaks roughly into the camera before opening the door to an AutoZone store and shooting someone inside with what appeared to be a handgun. That man was taken to hospital in critical condition. In another, a man narrates himself driving — “green light, green light” — and sings “no faking.” At one point, he fires two quick bursts out the driver’s window while driving. Referring to the police, he says he will goes to “go down to the valley, shoot it with them in the valley.”
Three more shootings and two carjackings followed after police sent out an alert warning people to be on the lookout for an armed and dangerous man responsible for multiple shootings and allegedly recording his actions on Facebook.
Police say he killed a Memphis woman as he took the gray Toyota SUV he left behind when he stole a man’s Dodge Challenger across the state line in Southaven, Mississippi.
Kelly was arrested without incident two hours after police were initially alerted when he crashed the Challenger during a high-speed chase and two guns were found in the vehicle, Davis said.
As the shooter terrorized the city, buses stopped running and the Memphis Redbirds cleared the field during a minor-league baseball game. Friends and relatives frantically called and texted each other, and television stations cut to regular coverage with updates.
Police received “a lot of tips” from the public during the ordeal, Davis said.
The University of Memphis sent a message to students saying there had been a shooting near campus. Rhodes College, which is about 4 miles from the university, advised students on and off campus to evacuate in place. Kelly was eventually arrested in the Memphis neighborhood of Whitehaven, about 11 miles from the two campuses.
“If you don’t need to be outside, stay indoors until this is resolved,” Memphis police said on Twitter, before the arrest.
Police have not discussed a motive or released the identities of those killed or injured. It was too early in the investigation to discuss how the suspect got the gun or guns used in the shooting, said Ali Roberts, assistant special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Memphis.
Memphis has been rocked by several high-profile murders in recent weeks, including the shooting of a pastor during a carjacking on her street, the shooting of an activist during a dispute over money, and the killing of a jogger who was kidnapped during the pre dawn run.
“I understand it’s so violent and bad to experience in such a short amount of time,” Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle said on Twitter. “We are much more than that.”
In February 2020, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, use of a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, court records show.
Records show he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced in April 2021 to three years. Kelly was released from prison in March, 11 months after his conviction, the mayor said. Given the time he spent awaiting resolution of his charges, he likely received credit for time served and spent more than two years behind bars.
Strickland thanked lawmakers for closing what he called a revolving door by passing Tennessee’s “truth in sentencing” law this year. The statute, which went into effect after Kelly’s release, requires her to serve full sentences for various felonies, including attempted first-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter by a drunken driver and carjacking.
“From now on, three years for aggravated assault means three years,” the mayor said. “We need the courts and additional state laws to stop this revolving door, and I need the public to make their voices heard by these decision makers.”
Standing next to him was Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, a fellow Democrat who was elected in August after arguing that the sentencing law does not reduce crime or help inmates rehabilitate and increases Tennessee’s prison budget. Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who favors criminal justice reform, allowed the measure to become law without his signature.
“I don’t want to get into a prolonged political discussion tonight. I think tonight is a night to mourn and come together and express our concern for this horrible week we’ve had. I can say generally what I’ve been saying all along – that violent repeat offenders demand a tough response,” Mulroy said.
Mulroy then reiterated his call for a holistic approach, including rehabilitation as well as long sentences, so that people leave prison with the skills they need to avoid returning to lives of crime.