Police in Pennsylvania say they are searching for a pair of attackers who opened fire at a back-yard party in a Pittsburgh suburb Wednesday night, killing at least five people — including a pregnant woman — and injuring three others.
No motive has been offered by authorities investigating the mass shooting, and no suspects have been identified. However, officials said it appeared this was not a spur-of-the-moment attack, and instead described it as a premeditated assault targeting specific people.
“It was an ambush,” Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. told reporters Thursday.
Zappala offered a grim accounting of the attack, describing one attacker firing at people behind the house to drive them toward the door — and right into the path of another attacker firing a rifle at them.
“It was premeditated, it was calculated, it was planned,” Zappala said during a briefing. “It’s just a brutal murder. It’s one of the most brutal I’ve seen. I’ve been the D.A. for 18 years, I haven’t seen something like this during my tenure.”
The Allegheny County Police Department said that a 911 call came in shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday about a shooting at a home in Wilkinsburg, a small borough just east of Pittsburgh. Police said they found four people dead on the home’s back porch — three women and a man — and another four who were injured. All eight had been shot during what appeared to be a cookout in the back yard, authorities said.
A woman who was injured in the shooting died at a hospital. Two men who were injured remained in critical condition Thursday, and another woman was treated and released.
Allegheny County officials on Thursday morning identified the five people killed as Tina Shelton, 37; Shada Mahone, 26; and three siblings: Jerry Shelton, 35; Brittany Powell, 27; and Chanetta Powell, 25. Authorities did not immediately identify a cause of death for them, though police had said all of them were struck by gunfire.
“One person was pregnant, so we probably lost six lives,” Zappala told reporters. He said that Powell, who lived at the home where the shooting occurred, was due to give birth in May.
Zappala said that authorities believe “possibly one, maybe two people were targeted,” while the other victims appeared to be innocent bystanders. He said that investigators were working through a number of potential theories behind the shooting and had “eliminated a couple of different possible motives.”
Authorities said they believed two people fired different weapons, and recounted a chaotic scene where people fleeing gunfire were driven into a hail of bullets from another shooter.
“It looks like right now they were all fleeing toward the back door of the residence when the second gunman fired from the side of the yard,” Lt. Andrew Schurman of the Allegheny County police told reporters at a different briefing earlier Thursday. “And they all seemed to get caught on the back porch.”
Zappala said that the first attacker used a .40-caliber handgun to fire at people behind the house, while another attacker wielding what he called “an AK-47-type” rifle was waiting for them when they headed toward the home.
“They just pushed them toward the door, and right into the path of the rifle,” Zappala said.
Local resident Kayla Alexander told WPXI that she was walking home from work when she heard about 20 gunshots, then a pause, before six more shots echoed over the neighborhood.
“This street is always quiet. There is nothing but kids on this street,” she said. “I’m shaken, so it’s pretty bad.”
Photos from the scene showed a residential street littered with police evidence markers.
This rampage is the latest in a series of shooting sprees that have shaken communities nationwide, coming just weeks after attacks in Hesston, Kan., and Kalamazoo, Mich. Since last year, mass shootings have erupted at locations as disparate as a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif.; a community college in Roseburg, Ore.; and a church in Charleston, S.C.
“Wilkinsburg is a community filled with grief, shock and anger this morning,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement Thursday. “We share their grief and offer them our support in the days and weeks to come.”
The community in Wilkinsburg, not far from affluent neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, has faced problems with its schools and grappled with poverty. Wilkinsburg has about 15,000 residents, and it is poorer than surrounding Allegheny County as well as the state; one in five Wilkinsburg residents are living in poverty, according to census figures.
Michael Miller contributed to this post, which has been updated.