KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After nearly a month of reports of gunshots being fired at vehicles and more than 100 tips, authorities announced charges Friday against a Kansas City-area man suspected in connection with about a dozen highway shootings that wounded three people.
Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said at a news conference that 27-year-old Mohammed Whitaker, of Grandview, has been charged with 18 felony counts and was being held on $1 million cash bail. Baker said Whitaker, who had been under surveillance by police for about a week before his arrest, was charged with two counts of shooting into a motor vehicle and injuring a person, seven counts of shooting into a motor vehicle and nine counts of armed criminal action.
“This has impacted all of us, each side of State Line, each side of the river,” Baker said. “It’s been something that’s been at the hearts and thoughts of all us since the day this case first broke.”
Police Chief Darryl Forte declined to discuss a possible motive for the shootings, and the probable cause affidavit released Friday also does not address the issue. Baker’s office said it was unclear whether Whitaker had a lawyer.
Whitaker’s mother, Maria Dunn, 55, said she doesn’t believe any of the charges against her son, who she said has always been “happy” and a “good kid.”
“Right now, there’s so many things in my head. … All I know is that I can’t believe this is happening to him. I just can’t,” Dunn said in a phone interview from her home in Texas. She said the family lived for a while in central Missouri, where her son attended high school before he moved to Kansas City to attend DeVry University to study computer science.
“Mohammed is a good son, a good kid, and nothing, nothing that they charged him is the truth. He’s a good kid, and I’m proud of him that he’s my son.”
Baker said the public played a key role leading to Whitaker’s arrest by providing more than 100 tips, including some vital information. Among the tips included descriptions of the suspect and his car, his Illinois license plate number, and the discovery of spent shell casings reported by someone looking for a lost cellphone, according to the probable cause statement.
“We would not be here but for the tips that came in, but for the individuals that were willing to tell us about car descriptions and other information that they had. … Without those types of citizens in our community, I wouldn’t be able to stand here today with 18 felony charges,” Baker said.
A reward of up to $10,000 was offered for information leading to an arrest. Police haven’t said if anyone will be claiming the reward.
At least six of the shootings occurred near Grandview, the Kansas City suburb that’s home to an area known as the Grandview Triangle, where three interstates and U.S. 50 intersect. Other shootings were reported in the Missouri suburbs of Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit and Leawood, Kan. Two of the wounded drivers were shot in the leg, and the third was shot in the arm. None of their wounds was considered life-threatening.
The last confirmed shooting believed to be connected to the case was reported April 6, about a month after the shootings began. Late last week, police said they had connected a dozen shootings to the same person, but they have said little else about how the shootings were linked or what kind of vehicle the suspect drove.
Whitaker was taken into custody Thursday at a home near Interstate 49, one of the highways that intersects at the Grandview Triangle. Police also confiscated a dark green Dodge Neon there.
Police began following Whitaker on April 11 and also obtained a GPS warrant for his car. Police surveillance crews watched Whitaker meet with a man in a business parking lot to buy a firearm. The man, however, didn’t sell Whitaker the weapon because Whitaker wouldn’t provide identification.
The probable cause statement also described other encounters Whitaker had with police and the public. On April 13, Whitaker “braked rapidly” while he was being followed by police, the statement said. The officer saw Whitaker “turn his head and upper torso to the right directly facing the officer,” according to the statement.
On April 16, police followed Whitaker onto a frontage road off U.S. 71 where Whitaker followed a white Honda, staying behind and to the left of the Honda.
“As the Honda slowed to make a right hand turn … Whitaker intentionally crossed all lanes of traffic and veered directly at the Honda,” the statement said. “The Honda completed the turn and Whitaker narrowly missed it. Surveillance officers could see Whitaker looking directly at the Honda.”
Dunn, who said she works as a hairdresser, said she had been considering moving back to Missouri so she and her son could live together.
“I’m just praying Jesus to help him now that he needs some help,” she said. “He’s a good kid. He used to go to church with us. I don’t believe nothing they say about him. He’s innocent.”