Three months after gunmen opened fire at a suburban Pittsburgh family cookout and killed six innocent people and wounded three others, authorities have charged two men with the murders, ABC News is reporting.
Police charged Cheron Shelton, 29, and Robert Thomas, 27, with the murders; men they had suspected right from the very beginning.
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Allegheny County officials announced Thursday that the two gunmen would each face five counts of homicide, six counts of aggravated assault, six counts of recklessly endangering another person, conspiracy and criminal homicide of an unborn child. One of the victims, Chanetta Powell, 25, was 8 months pregnant.
The gunmen had been in the Allegheny County Jail held on charges not linked to the shooting attack; but, during investigations they emerged as prime suspects. District Attorney Stephen Zappal, at a news conference Thursday, said Shelton and Thomas have been charged with the deaths even though evidence was still being evaluated at the crime lab. According to him, lawyers for the two men had forced his hand after claiming that they were held in solitary confinement and treated unfairly in jail.
Zappala said it took authorities from all levels three months to build an iron-clad case against the suspects, because there was a lack of cooperation and communication within the community.
“It was kind of disappointing given the gravity of these offenses and the fact that so many innocent people had their lives taken, that we did not get more cooperation from the public. Most of this has been developed through police work.”
The “no snitch” culture is a pervading problem for law enforcement authorities across America, but with the help of surveillance footage, text messages, phone records and cell phone pings, authorities were able to piece together what really happened on March 9.
Zappala, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said Shelton and Thomas arrived at a residence in Wilkinsburg looking for someone in particular –LaMont Powell. Shelton had blamed him for killing his best friend 3 years prior. Powell was one of the three people wounded in the cookout ambush.
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Zappala said Thomas honed in on the cookout from the backyard, shooting at least 18 times from a.40-caliber pistol. As the victims fled in the opposite direction, Shelton was waiting for them and purportedly opened fire with an assault rifle, firing at least 30 shots while only standing a few feet away.
Four bodies were found near the back porch. The 25-year-old pregnant woman died on her way to the hospital. Three others were injured. Three children playing inside the house were not injured.
Officials identified the victims as siblings Brittany Powell, 27, Chanetta Powell, 25, and Jerry Shelton, 35. A family friend, Shada Mahone, 26, and cousin, Tina Shelton, 37, were also killed. Zapapala said apart from LaMont Powell, every other person at the cookout was innocent and could not understand why the gunmen brought the “merciless vile” in their direction.
One of the alleged shooters, Cheron Shelton is not related to the victims. LaMont Powell is a brother to the three siblings killed. A neighbor who attended the cookout, John Ellis, 48, ended up being paralyzed from the waist down because of gun injuries.
Despite the “no snitching” culture, two anonymous witnesses said Shelton and Thomas talked about the bloodbath. One of the witnesses said Shelton had planned to still kill more people at the victims’ funerals, but Thomas had told him not to do it. A second witness revealed that Shelton had talked about “hitting them with the chopper” — street slang for an AK-47 — and that he wanted “everybody gone.”
Police say a 25-minute surveillance video shows Shelton turning into the street a few minutes before the shooting and sitting in the car with a lengthy and slender object. Authorities admit that they have not laid hands on the murder weapons, but suspect that Shelton communicated to a friend to dispose of the weapons using hand signals during a jail house visit.
[Image via Shutterstock/Paul Tessier]