Memphis Man Who Livestreamed Shootings Was Released Early from Prison

(AP) A gunman who livestreamed himself driving around Memphis shooting at people, killing four and wounding three others in seemingly random attacks, was arrested after crashing a stolen car, police said early Thursday.

The hourslong rampage shut down much of the city as police warned people to shelter in place. Authorities locked down a baseball stadium and university campuses and suspended bus service as frightened residents wondered where the assailant might strike next.

Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said seven shootings and at least two carjackings were reported before Ezekiel Kelly was arrested without incident Wednesday evening.

Kelly, 19, was released early from a prison sentence for aggravated assault, court records show, raising a sore point between the city’s mayor and the county’s top prosecutor that played out before cameras at a news conference.

“This is no way for us to live, and it is not acceptable,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who later pounded the podium as he demanded accountability. “If Mr. Kelly served his full 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 happened just before 1 a.m. Wednesday. A police affidavit said at least three witnesses saw Kelly fatally shoot Dewayne Tunstall in the head as Tunstall was visiting with friends at a home in Memphis. According to the affidavit, Kelly pulled Tunstall to the side and during their conversation drew a handgun and fired several shots.

The witnesses, friends of both Kelly and Tunstall, identified Kelly as the shooter from a photo lineup, the affidavit said.

Davis said officers responded to three more crime scenes before receiving a tip shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday that the suspect was livestreaming himself and threatening to hurt people.

In one clip from the video, the suspect casually speaks to the camera before opening the door to an AutoZone store and shooting someone inside with what appeared to be a pistol. That man was taken to a 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 rapid bursts of gunfire out the driver’s window while driving. Referring to police, he says he’s going to “go down to the valley, shoot it out 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 man responsible for multiple shootings and reportedly recording his actions on Facebook.

Police said he killed a woman in Memphis as he took her SUV, which he left behind when he stole a man’s car across the state line in Southaven, Mississippi.

Ezekiel Kelly. (Memphis Police Department via AP)

Kelly was arrested two hours after the initial police alert when he crashed the car during a high-speed chase, and two guns were found in the vehicle, Davis said.

As the shooter terrorized the city, friends and relatives frantically called and texted each other, and TV stations cut into regular coverage with updates.

Facebook parent company Meta said Thursday that it detected and removed the suspected shooter’s livestream before Memphis police sent their initial alert, but the company declined to say for how long the live video was streaming. The company said it also removed the suspect’s Facebook account and has been continuously removing content such as copies of the video or messages praising the attack.

Police did not discuss a motive or release the identities of those killed or wounded. It was too early in the investigation to discuss how the suspect got the gun or guns used in the shootings, said Ali Roberts, acting assistant special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Memphis.

Memphis has been shaken by several high-profile killings in recent weeks, including the shooting of a pastor during a daylight carjacking in her driveway, the shooting of an activist during an argument over money and the slaying of a jogger abducted during a pre-dawn run.

“I understand it feels like so much violence and evil to experience in such a short time,” Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle said on Twitter. “We are SO much more than this.”

In February 2020, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, using a firearm to commit 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 he was sentenced, the mayor said. Given the time he spent awaiting a resolution of his charges, he likely got credit for time served and spent more than two years behind bars.

Strickland thanked legislators for closing what he called a revolving door by passing Tennessee’s so-called “truth in sentencing” law this year. The statute, which took effect after Kelly was freed, requires serving entire sentences for various felonies, including attempted first-degree murder, vehicular homicide resulting from the driver’s intoxication 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 those decision makers.”

Standing beside him was Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, a fellow Democrat who was elected in August after arguing that the sentencing law drives up Tennessee’s prison budget without reducing crime or helping incarcerated people rehabilitate. Mulroy had no role in Kelly’s prior prosecution and sentence.

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 protracted policy debate tonight,” Mulroy said. “I think tonight is a night for grieving and coming together and expressing concern about this horrific week that we’ve had. I can say in general what I’ve been saying all along — that repeat violent offenders require a tough response.”

Mulroy then repeated 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.