EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Investigators on Sunday captured a man they believe opened fire on a car parked at a gas station, killing three women, including an acquaintance of the suspect, state investigators said. Children inside the bullet-riddled vehicle escaped harm.
All the wounded in Saturday night's shooting outside the Crown Food Mart in East St. Louis were shot several times, mostly in the torso, and died later at a hospital, Illinois State Police Lt. James Morrisey said. At least one victim knew the gunman, Morrisey said, though the precise relationship was not clear.
Jay Makhluf, a co-owner of the convenience store, told The Associated Press he was working behind the counter when he heard what sounded like about 14 gunshots.
"He just emptied the whole gun," said Makhluf, who hustled outside to offer medical assistance but quickly found it was futile. "The women were already dead. It didn't take long for them to die. They were shot in the head, in the chest, in the neck. It's sick."
Makhluf said it looked like one of the women had covered a child with her body to shield the youngster.
Police in neighboring St. Louis arrested the suspect Sunday night at an apartment after an intensive search for the white, four-door 1993 Mercury Grand Marquis he supposedly drove to and from the shooting, Morrisey said.
The suspect's name was not released because charges had not been filed.
Police accounts conflicted Sunday night about how many children were in the car at the time. Morrisey said the children numbered three, one more than East St. Louis police Detective Ken Berry's number reported by the Belleville News-Democrat.
Their ages and relationships to the slain women — Canikia Harvey, 26, Raykel Gathing, 26, Jaimaca McDaniel, 24, all of East St. Louis — were not readily available.
"It's a bad enough tragedy as it is, but I think it's very fortunate none of the children were struck," Morrisey said.
Messages left with East St. Louis police and St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone were not immediately returned.
Morrisey said the women and children were sitting in a car about 9:30 p.m. Saturday on the convenience store's lot when the suspect drove up, exchanged words briefly with at least one of the women and began firing with a handgun. The shooter then sped away, Morrisey said.
By Sunday night, Makhluf said, the gas pump where the women were gunned down was a makeshift memorial, adorned with flowers and a teddy bear. The pump was out of service for the day as a sign of respect for the victims' families, Makhluf said.
McDaniel's father, Willie Holmes, told the Belleville newspaper the murdered women were good friends and that his daughter had three sons. It was not clear whether those boys were the children in the car.
The killings bring the number of homicides in East St. Louis this year to 27. There were 19 in 2008.