A white man charged with shooting and killing two African-Americans at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky last week had first tried to enter a predominantly African-American church, police say.
Gregory Bush, 51, was charged with killing Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, at the supermarket in Jeffersontown, Ky., a suburb of Louisville.
As more information about the Wednesday attack and its alleged perpetrator have emerged, there are indications that Bush chose his targets because of the color of their skin.
Federal investigators are looking into the fatal shootings as “potential civil rights violations such as hate crimes,” Russell Coleman, the U.S. attorney for the Western district of Kentucky, said in a statement.
The details are chilling.
Bush allegedly walked into the Kroger, pulled a gun and shot Stallard in the back of the head, then shot him several more times. Then he went outside and killed Jones, who also died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to The Associated Press.
Louisville resident Ed Harrell told the Courier-Journal that as he crouched in the Kroger parking lot clutching his own revolver, the gunman walked by him and said, “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”
Police say that just a few minutes before heading to the Kroger, Bush first tried to get into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, a predominantly African-American church. Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers told reporters that surveillance video showed Bush yanking on the church doors. If Bush had come to the church an hour earlier that day, some 70 people would have been gathered there, and the door might have been unlocked, the Courier-Journal reported.
At the First Baptist Church on Sunday, Rogers told the congregation that the attack was racially motivated, calling it the “the elephant in the room that some don’t want to acknowledge in this case,” according to the Louisville newspaper.
“I won’t stand here and pretend that none of us know what could have happened if that evil man had gotten in the doors of this church,” the police chief said.
The newspaper also reports that Bush’s ex-wife, who is black, said in court records that he had called her a “[N-word] bitch.” Bush has a lengthy criminal record, including being convicted of domestic assault for punching his father in the face and lifting his mother by her neck. His convictions did not prevent him from legally owning firearms.
Bush is now in jail, facing two murder counts and 10 counts of felony wanton endangerment.
Some observers criticized the relative lack of national media attention that the shooting received last week. The attack in Jeffersontown occurred on the same day that news headlines were dominated by the packages containing possible explosive devices that had been received by a number of Democratic leaders and media organizations.
“The bombs, though, were actually Wednesday’s second-most important story in this country. The other most important story caught the media’s attention for just a few minutes, then faded right back out of the news cycle,” Shaun King wrote at The Intercept last Thursday.
In a speech to the Federalist Society of Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for the death penalty if Bush is convicted. “If these are not hate crimes, I don’t know what a hate crime is,” McConnell said, according to Politico.