TERRELL — An overnight manhunt in Kaufman County led to the arrest of a 36-year-old Terrell man after five people were found killed at four separate locations Monday.
Charles Everett Brownlow Jr. was arrested following a car chase with police, sheriff's deputies and state troopers. The chase began Monday night and went into the early morning hours Tuesday. At about 1:30 a.m., the chase ended when Brownlow crashed his car on College Mound Road and fled into a wooded area south of U.S. 80, where he was later apprehended.
"We're all in a state of shock," said Terrell police Chief Jody Lay. "This is going to have a big impact on us."
As of Tuesday afternoon, Brownlow has been charged with a single count of capital murder. Lay said more charges are pending –– the murder charge is for the slaying of a convenience store clerk, the last before he triggered a chase with authorities.
"A number of additional charges should be anticipated, including additional capital murder charges," Lay said. "We will continue to move forward diligently and appropriately and with due regard to the situation we have here."
The suspect was on the loose for more than eight hours. Lay defended the actions of his police officers, saying they acclimated quickly to the rapidly changing incident. The public was not notified of the rampage until after his car was identified.
"This was an extremely dynamic event that changed very rapidly," he said in an afternoon news conference. "In hindsight, it's always wonderful to look at a timeline and determine that it was clearly predictable that this was occuring and that this guy was on the loose but that wasn't how exactly in real time that it unfolded."
"We were scrambling, quite frankly, for the first several hours of this investigation," he added.
Police found the first victim at about 5 p.m., which is when the Terrell Police Department received a report of a shooting in the 300 block of Tyler St. Upon arriving at the scene, police found the body of a woman with a bullet wound to the head.
About 30 minutes later and only a few blocks away from the first crime scene, a Terrell firefighter spotted a house ablaze in the 300 block of Stalling St. As firefighters worked to extinguish the fire, the body of another woman was found inside the residence. Authorities said the fire was a clear case of arson and noted Brownlow — who lives at the home — was missing from the residence, along with a 2002 white Ford Focus.
"I'm at a total loss," said Terrence Walker, who identified himself as Brownlow's brother. "My mom was so quiet and good."
Walker said his mother, 63-year-old Mary Brownlow, was the victim found in the burning home. He also said his aunt, Belinda Walker, was another victim.
Terrell police said they quickly linked the two crime scenes and began a search for both Brownlow and the missing vehicle.
It was hours after the second body was found before authorities received their next call at about 10 p.m., which is when a 911 caller reported a shooting in the 800 block of N. Francis St. involving a suspect fitting Brownlow's description. No one was injured at that address.
Then, at 10:27 p.m., police found a man and woman dead at another residence in the 800 block of Eulalia Dr. A 3-year-old child was found uninjured in a bed inside the home. Lay said Brownlow and the two victims "hung out occasionally." They were identified as Jason Wooden, 33, of Terrell, and Kelley Pratt, 30, of Terrell.
According to a search warrant, the child told responding officers "that a guy came in and shot his mom and dad" and had a gun. The warrant says officers observed spent shell casings, projectiles and live ammunition on the floor of the garage and "various other parts of the house." A blood trial also led from the kitchen area to the rear portion of the house, where the two bodies were found, the document says.
The child was given to family members.
Ten minutes later, an officer spotted the Ford Focus at a convenience store in the 700 block of W. Moore Ave. At the scene, the officer spotted the suspect, who made an escape as the officer called in an alert. Authorities later found the body of store clerk Luis Leal inside the store.
The suspect fled the scene by car and led police on a chase through several neighborhoods before the vehicle wrecked on College Mound Road, which dead ends. Police said Brownlow fled on foot into an area with heavy brush. Officers pursued, but lost track of him after chasing him nearly 150 yards.
At about 1:30 a.m., a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter spotted Brownlow hiding in a creek near Gardner and Canton streets, where he was taken into custody. Police will not say whether a gun was recovered on his person, nor the type of weapon he used. Lay did say that investigators believe only one gun was used in all of the murders.
"We are conferring with the DA's office we don't want to do anything at this point that may jeopardize or compromise the success of any prosecution on this," he said.
Had the officer not spotted the suspect, Lay said he was concerned there would've been more victims.
"Had the police officer not intervened, I'm very concerned that we would've had additional situations," Lay said.
The motive for the crimes is under investigation.
"I'm devastated," Walker said. "... I'm in a daze. It must have been drugs."
Lay said Brownlow "appeared to be intoxicated on some sort of substance" but that investigators do not "have a real good idea of what that is." He declined to speculate on a motive, only saying detectives have several theories they are investigating.
Clarence Graham said one of the victims is his first cousin.
"I'm still in shock about it," he said. "I've got to let it soak in. I don't know. It's something that's hard to deal with."
Denise Fields, who lives in the neighborhood where the first two bodies were found, was trying to absorb the tragedy on Monday night.
"This is a good community, and we don't know what happened and what triggered it all," she said. "It's something that God is going to have to handle."
Terrell Mayor Hal Richards defended the city as safe and praised the "textbook police operation" that led to the arrest of Brownlow. He said neither this incident nor the slaying of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife and the assistant district attorney means the city isn't a safe place to live.
"I guess I don't understand why anyone would like any events in Kaufman County," he said. "This was an isolated incident with one suspect who was, as I mentioned before, captured by the result of a really great police investigation."
All the families of the victims have been notified, Lay said. Family and friends of Leal have planned a vigil for 6 p.m. at the Terrell Chamber of Commerce.
Terrell is 30 miles east of Dallas.
WFAA's Josh Davis, Matt Goodman and Walt Zwirko contributed to this report