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DA: 6 dead in 'calculated' execution in Wilkinsburg; police seek shooters

Megan Guza
| Thursday, March 10, 2016, 7:39 a.m.

More than a dozen friends and family gathered Wednesday in Brittany Powell's backyard in Wilkinsburg, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm March night.

If anyone noticed the two gunmen quietly cornering the group in the fenced yard, it was too late to avoid at least 49 shots they pumped into the crowd.

Five adults and an unborn child were killed and three more adults were wounded, two critically.

Authorities called the shooting just before 11 p.m. Wednesday — one of the deadliest in Allegheny County history — an execution. Police said Thursday they have no suspects, no motive.

A spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said investigators are looking into several theories, including the possibility that one of the wounded victims — LaMont Powell — was the intended targeted.

Zappala said drugs have not been ruled out as a motive, though no drugs were found in the house. Retaliation remains a possible motive, too.

“It was very calculated — very methodical,” said Zappala, who toured the scene. He said the slayings were the worst he's seen in his 18 years as prosecutor.

The county Medical Examiner's Office identified the victims as Jerry Shelton, 35; Tina Shelton, 37; Brittany Powell, 27; Chanetta Powell, 25; and Shada Mahone, 26. Chanetta Powell's unborn boy also died. The Powells and Jerry Shelton were siblings. Tina Shelton was their cousin and Mahone a close family friend.

LaMont Powell, 24, remained at UPMC Mercy in critical condition Thursday, according to his mother, Jessica Shelton, who lost three of her six children and a niece. She said LaMont Powell was shot in the neck, chest, lower back and hand, and more surgery is scheduled for Friday.

Another man, whose name was not released, also remained in critical condition, officials said. A woman, who police did not identify, was treated and released.

Authorities described a chilling series of events in the backyard, where about 15 people had gathered for barbecue and banter.

About 10:50 p.m. in the darkened Hazel Alley at the rear of the backyard, a man with a .40-caliber handgun approached the picket fence.

He fired into the yard, sending the group scrambling for safety toward the back door of the two-story house.

But a second gunman, wielding an AK-47-style 7.62-mm rifle, waited for them in the narrow walkway beside the house. He fired into the panicked crowd.

Investigators said the first shooter purposely drove the victims toward the second.

“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,” county police Lt. Andrew Schurman said. “They all seemed to get caught on the back porch.”

County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said four of the victims were found in a pile on the back porch, all shot multiple times.

The shots by the second man were calculated and purposeful, Zappala said, as all of the dead were shot in the head.

Complete chaos

The massacre had people pouring into the street, screaming and crying in a normally quiet section of Wilkinsburg.

“It was mass chaos,” said Jacqueline Johnson, who lives four houses down from the scene. “There were people everywhere.”

She said she and her husband were in the living room when they heard the burst of gunfire — “pow, pow, pow” — and she called 911. Police flooded the area.

Four young children were inside the house when the killing began, and the uninjured scrambled to whisk them away from the carnage. Johnson saw a man lying on the porch, bloody, she said.

“I have never witnessed anything like it,” said Johnson, who has lived in her home for nearly 35 years.

Carl Morris and his son, Robert Morris, live across the street on Franklin. Carl Morris said they were about to leave the house when he decided to catch the last five minutes of the television show they'd been watching. Seconds later, gunfire erupted.

Robert Morris, 15, said he heard three quiet “pops” and thought the group was lighting firecrackers at their party. Then he heard the barrage of gunshots, and both men hit the floor. Robert Morris described hearing gunfire for the first time.

“I've never heard gunshots that close to me where I thought they could hit me,” he said.

The two stayed on the floor until the shooting subsided, and then Carl Morris ran outside. He said there were children on the porch crying, “My mommy, my mommy.”

He said officers asked him to help corral a dog at the scene. The dog, Libby, was shot in the tail, he said.

“I saw three bodies lying on the (back) porch with bullet holes in them,” he said.

No suspects

Jessica Shelton said three men she'd never met were at the cookout. She said she didn't know who invited them, and speculated that perhaps a neighbor in attendance knew them.

One of them said his name was “Ace,” she said.

“My whole family was massacred,” Shelton said. “Why didn't these three guys get hurt?”

Moffatt said police have the names of several people, but he declined to call them suspects. He would not identify them so as not to alert them to the fact police are looking for them. He would not give any descriptions.

“We don't have enough at this time to make any arrests,” Moffatt said. “We don't have enough to even mandate that we pull somebody in.”

Investigators believe one or two in the group were the targets of the ambush, and Moffat said it was clear the party was targeted rather than a random spree.

“The way this house is situated and the alleyway where they had to walk to get to the location for the shootings to occur, they knew right where they were going,” Moffatt said.

Police combed the alley and neighboring yards and garages but found little, authorities said. Police found a gun several blocks away, but it was determined to be unrelated to the massacre.

Chris Taylor, assistant special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said 49 shell casings were found at the scene — 18 from the handgun and 31 from the AK-47-style rifle.

If any weapons are recovered, agents will attempt to trace their origins, Taylor said.

ATF is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to arrests.

Detectives are working backward to determine a motive and exactly what happened, Zappala said, and investigators have “eliminated a couple possible motives.”

Staff writers Elizabeth Behrman and Bob Bauder contributed. Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mguza@tribweb.com.

Emmai Alaquiva of Wilkinsburg comforts Carla Lee, a friend of Brittany Powell, 27, one of the victims of Wednesday's deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, during a vigil in front of the home on Thursday evening March 10, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Emmai Alaquiva of Wilkinsburg comforts Carla Lee, a friend of Brittany Powell, 27, one of the victims of Wednesday's deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, during a vigil in front of the home on Thursday evening March 10, 2016.
Araina Reuben, left, comforts her cousin, Mellyora Walker, right, the sister of three of the victims of Wednesday night's deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, after a press conference with media at the Lighthouse Church in Mt. Oliver on Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Araina Reuben, left, comforts her cousin, Mellyora Walker, right, the sister of three of the victims of Wednesday night's deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, after a press conference with media at the Lighthouse Church in Mt. Oliver on Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2016.
A tearful Jessica Shelton speaks to members of the media at the Lighthouse Church in Mt. Oliver on Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2016. Shelton's two daughters, one eight-months pregnant, and one of her sons were killed in a shooting in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday night.  Another one of her sons was critically wounded.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A tearful Jessica Shelton speaks to members of the media at the Lighthouse Church in Mt. Oliver on Thursday afternoon, March 10, 2016. Shelton's two daughters, one eight-months pregnant, and one of her sons were killed in a shooting in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday night. Another one of her sons was critically wounded.
Brittany Powell, 27, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in an ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
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Brittany Powell, 27, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in an ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Chanetta Powell, 25, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in an ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
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Chanetta Powell, 25, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in an ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Jerry Shelton, 35, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in an ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
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Jerry Shelton, 35, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in an ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Tina Shelton, 37, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in a  shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Tina Shelton, 37, was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in a shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Shada Jackson was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in a ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Shada Jackson was killed Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in a ambush shooting at a Wilkinsburg party.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. (far left) surveys the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. (far left) surveys the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
Police leave deserted on Thursday, March 9, 2016, the yard of a Wilkinsburg home where six people were killed and three wounded.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Police leave deserted on Thursday, March 9, 2016, the yard of a Wilkinsburg home where six people were killed and three wounded.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. (far left) addresses the media at the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. (far left) addresses the media at the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
Allegheny County Police investigators search the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Police investigators search the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
Allegheny County Police Lt. Andrew Schurman (center) confers with James Morton, assistant superintendent of police and commander of the Investigative Division (left) and Charles Moffatt, auperintendent of the county police (right) at the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg in the alley behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Police Lt. Andrew Schurman (center) confers with James Morton, assistant superintendent of police and commander of the Investigative Division (left) and Charles Moffatt, auperintendent of the county police (right) at the scene of a shooting in Wilkinsburg in the alley behind a home in the 1300 block of Franklin Avenue Thursday, March 9, 2016.
A grief-stricken woman is comforted near the scene of a shooting on Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg on Thursday March 10, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A grief-stricken woman is comforted near the scene of a shooting on Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg on Thursday March 10, 2016.
Jessica Shelton (left) cries along Franklin Avenue early Thursday March 10, 2016, in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a family cookout.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Jessica Shelton (left) cries along Franklin Avenue early Thursday March 10, 2016, in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a family cookout.
A woman is overcome with emotion at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A woman is overcome with emotion at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
A person reacts at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016. As of 1:15 A.M. police confirmed there were at least 5 fatalities.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A person reacts at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016. As of 1:15 A.M. police confirmed there were at least 5 fatalities.
A person reacts at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A person reacts at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
A woman reacts at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A woman reacts at the scene of a shooting near Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
Women try to pick up a woman who collapsed at the scene of a mass shooting off of Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg that left five dead on early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Women try to pick up a woman who collapsed at the scene of a mass shooting off of Franklin Ave. in Wilkinsburg that left five dead on early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
People watch as friends and family are overcome with emotion along Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg at the scene of a mass shooting that left 5 dead on early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
People watch as friends and family are overcome with emotion along Franklin Avenue in Wilkinsburg at the scene of a mass shooting that left 5 dead on early Thursday morning, March 10, 2016.
A tearful Jessica Shelton speaks at a news conference in Lighthouse Church in Mt. Oliver on Thursday, March 10, 2016. Three of Shelton's children were killed in a shooting in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A tearful Jessica Shelton speaks at a news conference in Lighthouse Church in Mt. Oliver on Thursday, March 10, 2016. Three of Shelton's children were killed in a shooting in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
Jessica Shelton (second from right) speaks Thursday, March 10, 2016, at The Lighthouse church in Pittsburgh. Three of Shelton's children were shot the night before at a Wilkinsburg party.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Jessica Shelton (second from right) speaks Thursday, March 10, 2016, at The Lighthouse church in Pittsburgh. Three of Shelton's children were shot the night before at a Wilkinsburg party.
A man lights a candle during a vigil on Thursday March 10, 2016, near the home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday night.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A man lights a candle during a vigil on Thursday March 10, 2016, near the home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday night.
The backyard of a home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The backyard of a home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night.
Crime scene tape lays in a garbage can in the backyard of a home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Crime scene tape lays in a garbage can in the backyard of a home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night.
Emmai Alaquiva of Wilkinsburg quietly stands, looking at the backyard of a home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night March 9, 2016,.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Emmai Alaquiva of Wilkinsburg quietly stands, looking at the backyard of a home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night March 9, 2016,.
Edward Alexander, 29, of Wilkinsburg holds a candle during a vigil on Thursday March 10, 2016, near the home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday night.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Edward Alexander, 29, of Wilkinsburg holds a candle during a vigil on Thursday March 10, 2016, near the home where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg on Wednesday night.
Carla Lee (center) friend of Brittany Powell, 27, one of the victims a deadly shooting Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Wilkinsburg, looks on as people pray around her after a vigil in front of the home where the shooting occurred on Thursday, March 10, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Carla Lee (center) friend of Brittany Powell, 27, one of the victims a deadly shooting Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Wilkinsburg, looks on as people pray around her after a vigil in front of the home where the shooting occurred on Thursday, March 10, 2016.
'I love you to the moon and back,' reads one of the items left on the front porch of a home in Wilkinsburg where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night March 9, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
'I love you to the moon and back,' reads one of the items left on the front porch of a home in Wilkinsburg where five people including a pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a backyard “execution” in Wilkinsburg late Wednesday night March 9, 2016.
People gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn and pray in front of the home in Wilkinsburg where a mass shooting occurred on Wednesday night.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
People gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn and pray in front of the home in Wilkinsburg where a mass shooting occurred on Wednesday night.
A young man prays aloud as people gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn in front of the home in Wilkinsburg where a mass shooting occurred on Wednesday night.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A young man prays aloud as people gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn in front of the home in Wilkinsburg where a mass shooting occurred on Wednesday night.
Julius Stamper, friend of Brittany Powell, 27, one of the victims of a deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, lights candles in front the home where the shooting occurred on Thursday, March 10, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Julius Stamper, friend of Brittany Powell, 27, one of the victims of a deadly shooting in Wilkinsburg, lights candles in front the home where the shooting occurred on Thursday, March 10, 2016.
A woman lights candles as people gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn in front of the home in Wilkinsburg where a mass shooting occurred on Wednesday night.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A woman lights candles as people gather Thursday evening March 10, 2016, to mourn in front of the home in Wilkinsburg where a mass shooting occurred on Wednesday night.
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