A 23-year-old Louisiana man will be charged in the “brutal murders” of two black men in Baton Rouge, and police say the random killings might have been “racially motivated.”
Kenneth Gleason is also accused of attempted murder in a third attack that occurred in East Baton Rouge, WBRZ-TV reports. According to the news station, Gleason is suspected of shooting at a house in his neighborhood where a black family lives, leading to the third charge. That incident occurred before the two killings, authorities said.
According to The Associated Press, police found a handwritten copy of a speech by Adolf Hitler during a search of Gleason’s home.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Johnny Dunnam said at a press conference that he thinks Gleason “would have killed again” if he had not been caught. “Baton Rouge has been through a lot of turmoil in the last year. “Hhe could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together.”
He was arrested Sunday on unrelated drug charges after police served a search warrant at his home, The Advocate newspaper reports. He then posted $3,500 bail and was released Sunday night. He was arrested a second time on a theft charge, but was released again Tuesday morning after posting $500 bail. Gleason was taken into custody for a third time Tuesday after prosecutors made the decision to charge him with murder.
Gleason is suspected in the shooting deaths of Bruce Cofield, 59, and Donald Smart, 49, who were shot last week in separate incidents, the newspaper reports. Gleason was questioned in connection to both killings Saturday, but investigators did yet have enough evidence to charge him with murder at the time, Baton Rouge Police Sergeant L’Jean McKneely told The Associated Press.
The police spokesman said the victims were “ambushed” and had no relationship with Gleason.
McKneely told The Associated Press that detectives have collected evidence connecting Gleason to the shootings. He added, “There is a strong possibility that it could be racially motivated,” but did not go into specifics about why investigators believe that could be the case. Police determined the two shootings were connected last week through a national ballistics database, The Advocate reports. It is not clear if any other unsolved homicides could be linked to the two shootings.
“It appears to be cold, calculated, planned (against) people who were unarmed and defenseless,” District Attorney Hillar Moore said at a press conference, according to The Advocate. “We don’t need to prove motive. There are a lot of things that are unanswered.”
Here’s what we know so far:
1. Bruce Cofield, Who Was Homeless & ‘Didn’t Bother Anyone,’ Was Shot to Death Tuesday, While Smart Was Gunned Down While Walking to Work 2 Days Later
The first shooting occurred on Tuesday, September 12, on Florida Boulevard, Baton Rouge Police said. According to The Advocate, the shooting happened about 10:30 p.m. near North Acadian Thruway. Markia Johnson, who lives nearby, told the newspaper that she heard 12 shots, six in rapid succession, then a pause, and six more shots.
Johnson told the newspaper that the victim, 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, was homeless and known in the neighborhood as “Mr. Bruce.” She had recently bought him some food and gave him some money after talking with him. He often held a sign in the intersection near where he was shot.
“The man didn’t bother anyone, not to get shot like that,” Johnson told The Advocate last week. “It’s senseless.”
Two days later and less than five miles away, Donald Smart, 49, was shot to death while walking to work, according to police. Smart was headed to his job as a dishwasher at Louie’s Cafe, The Advocate reports. He had worked at the restaurant, a 24-hour cafe popular with LSU students, for 20 years.
“I’ve seen 26 years of folks washing dishes in a busy diner and this guy is untouchable,” Fred Simonson, the restaurant’s general manager, told the newspaper. “When you have an employee like Donald, he’s the type of person who’s going to make the person next to him better.”
“This is a tragedy. … this is wrong,” Simonson told The Advocate. “This should not have happened.”
Smart was killed about 11 p.m. Thursday, September 14, on Alaska Street, police said.
“The before and after of Donald goes from, ‘What are we going to do tonight?’ to ‘Smooth sailing,'” Simonson told the newspaper. “You didn’t have to motivate Donald, Donald motivated you. What Donald means to me as a person and Louie’s as an institution is not quantifiable. It’s not measurable. .. Hopefully they can get some justice, some closure.”
Smart’s aunt, Mary, told The Associated Press that her nephew had a son and two daughters.
“I’m feeling down and depressed. My nephew, I love him, and he was on his way to work and that makes it so sad,” she told the AP. “He was always smiling and hugging everybody. A lot of people knew him.”
When asked about the police statement that the shooting may have been because of her nephew’s skin color, Mary Smart told the AP, “I cannot say. Only God knows.”
2. The Shootings Sparked Fears of a White Serial Killer Targeting Black Men
Fears circulated among Baton Rouge residents last week after word spread that police were hunting for a white male with a “military style haircut” possibly wearing a tactical vest in connection to the two random fatal shootings, according to The Rouge Collection. Residents said they were afraid there was a white serial killer on the loose targeting black men, according to the website.
The Advocate newspaper reported Friday, citing police sources, that there was an “all-out hunt” underway for the shooter and released the description of the possible gunman as being a “white male of medium build with a military style haircut who may be wearing a tactical vest.”
According to The Advocate, Captain Ricky Arnett wrote in a bulletin to officers, “We ask each of you to assist with the apprehension of this shooter. We cannot predict where this person may strike again, if at all he does. Please take time this evening and every evening until this person is apprehended to actively search for this car and suspect.”
Police confirmed to the newspaper that the search was the top priority for the department, but said the details shouldn’t have been made public.
“This is an on going investigation, the details of which we don’t want to get into. It’s kind of irresponsible that The Advocate posted details that we asked that they would not, kind of details in emails between officers in the field,” Police Chief Johnny Dunnam said in a radio interview. “A lot of that information is still preliminary. We aren’t 100% sure on a lot of that information, but it was reported that way.”
According to The Rouge Collection, Dunnam was asked on the Talk 107.3 radio show if he had a message for black residents of the city, and he responded, “If you see anything that suspicious make sure you report it. Call crime stoppers or the homicide. Both killings happened at a certain time of night. They need to be aware of their surrounding and any suspicious people that might pull up and talk to them. Right now it’s still preliminary and we’ve got every man and woman out there looking and searching for this individual.”
The city, which has about 229,000 residents and is about 55 percent black and 40 percent white, has already had an increase in homicides this year, more than 60, The Associated Press notes. And racial tensions remain high after a black man, Alton Sterling, was shot dead by Baton Rouge white police officers outside a convenience store. Two weeks later, a black gunman, Gavin Long, targeted police officers in an ambush, killing three and wounding three others before he was fatally shot. In May, it was announced that no charges would be filed against the officers in the Sterling shooting, Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni.
3. Gleason, Who Police Say Was Linked to the Shootings by a Car & Shell Casings, Was Arrested in Phoenix in December While Homeless
Kenneth Gleason does not appear to have a criminal record in Louisiana, according to public records. The Associated Press reports that Gleason was arrested in December 2016 in Phoenix. Police said Gleason, who was homeless at the time, was charged with shoplifting wine and razors. The charges were dropped in January 2017.
Gleason was born in Baton Rouge and seems to have lived there his entire life. The 23-year-old does not seem to have a social media presence in his name, but it is not known if he has Facebook, Twitter or other accounts under a different name.
According to The Advocate, Gleason attended Baton Rouge Magnet High School. He attended Baton Rouge Community College and then transferred to Louisiana State University in 2013, attending the school for a year before withdrawing in the fall of 2014.
His freshman year roommate, Bradley Guin, told the newspaper that Gleason “kept to himself” and was cited for marijuana possession while at the college. He said he met Gleason’s family and they seemed ” “very normal.”
Gleason was linked to the shootings by shell casings and a car, The Associated Press reports.
According to The Advocate, police were looking for a red, four-door “small, older sedan with shiny rims,” that was spotted at both shootings. The gunman was seen on video in the car at one of the scenes, the newspaper reports.
According to the AP, a car owned by Gleason matches the description of the one investigators had been searching for. The car was seized when police served the search warrant at Gleason’s home, WAFB-TV reports.
Authorities also said that detectives got a break when a security company noticed a white man in a red car taking his license plate off and then possibly putting a gun in his trunk while parked at the company’s office. The suspicious activity was reported to police and after the second shooting, detectives followed up with the company and obtained surveillance video and photographs.
According to The Advocate, in both shootings, the gunman, dressed in dark clothes and possibly wearing a tactical vest, exited his car and “shot (the victims) to death” with a 9-mm handgun. The same gun was used in all three shootings, authorities said. DNA found on a shell casing matched genetic material on a swab taken from Gleason, according to police.
Investigators said they haven’t found the gun, but Gleason purchased a handgun last November matching the one used in the shooting. He also ordered a silencer in July, but District Attorney Hillar Moore said it “thankfully” hadn’t arrived yet.
4. Marijuana & Human Growth Hormones Were Found at the Baton Rouge Home Where Gleason Lives With His Parents, Police Say
Police from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department searched the 5144 Sandy Ridge Drive home where Kenneth Gleason lives Saturday night, WBRZ-TV reports.
Public records show that the home is owned by Gleason’s parents. His mother works at LSU Press, the university’s book publishing arm, according to social media.
Detectives said they found 9 grams of marijuana in a bathroom and testosterone enanthate, known as human growth hormones, in his bedroom, the news station reports. Gleason acknowledged he was the owner of the drugs and does not have a prescription for the HGH, police said. Gleason was taken into custody.
Investigators said he was questioned extensively in connection to the two shootings, but he has not yet been charged with murder.
A neighbor, who doesn’t know Gleason and his family, told The Associated Press, “He looks like any clean-cut American kid. (It’s) hard to believe this sort of thing is still happening.”
Gleason’s cousins told CBS News they didn’t think he would have had anything to do with the shootings.
“He had no problems with any person,” Garrett Sing said after Gleason’s arrest Sunday. “He had black friends, white friends, Asian friends. He made friends with anyone.”
Barton Sing called Gleason a “good kid” and said he recently asked him to teach him how to bow hunt.
“He said he never liked guns. That’s why he wanted to get into archery,” Sing told CBS News. “He’s the last person I’d think to do something like this.”
5. Gleason, Who Could Face the Death Penalty, Was Twice Released From the East Baton Rouge Jail Before Murder Charges Were Filed
Kenneth Gleason was being held without bail at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on the drug charges in the aftermath of his first arrest following the raid on his home, online records show. He was booked into the jail on Sunday. But a bond hearing late Sunday afternoon led to him being released on $3,500 bail, records show.
He was charged with possession of schedule I drugs and possession with intent to distribute schedule III drugs.
Gleason was then arrested again early Tuesday morning on a theft charge, records show. He was released after a judge set his bail at $500 during an overnight bond hearing. The theft charge stems from an incident that occurred September 13, WBRZ-TV reports. Police said Gleason walked out of the Books-A-Million store in Towne Center with a book, The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, without paying for it. The news station reports that Gleason walked past two points of sale on the way out of the store. He was picked out of a lineup by a store employee, according to police.
He was arrested a third time on Tuesday and charged with murder. District Attorney Hillar Moore said they will considered seeking the death penalty.
Gleason’s attorney, J. Christopher Alexander, told The Associated Press his client “vehemently denies guilt, and we look forward to complete vindication.”