Returning to the site of an apartment complex where a fire and deadly ambush-style shooting took place over the weekend was extremely difficult for survivors and family members of those who were killed.
The Houston Police Department said dispatch received multiple calls shortly after 1 a.m. on Sunday about a fire and “person down” near Dunlap and Holly. Investigators said the suspect, who was dressed in dark clothing, set the apartment complex on fire and waited for his neighbors to evacuate before shooting them.
Firefighters said the suspect shot at them when they responded to the scene, forcing them to duck for cover. HPD Officer S. Mills confronted the suspect in a business parking lot across the street before shooting and killing him. HPD Chief Troy Finner said the suspect killed three innocent victims and injured at least two more.
The landlord, Tony Mercurio, told reporters the suspect was a nine-year resident who wasn’t paying rent and was evicted. Mercurio expressed disbelief over the tragedy, sharing that the suspect turned in his keys on Saturday and showed no signs of distress.
Michael James, one of the survivors, said he was on his way home from work Sunday morning when he saw the apartment complex on fire. He said that’s when the suspect shot him in the back and arm.
“I was trying to call 911, and all of a sudden, I’m walking out the driveway and ‘BANG!'” James said.
James was able to run away to safety and was eventually taken to the hospital by first responders. But he believes if he had been home any earlier, things could’ve ended much worse for him.
“I’m just thankful to be alive. But I can’t keep looking at this because I lost some good friends,” James said as he pointed to the burnt rubble in his apartment.
Nikki Stewart visited the site for the first time Monday afternoon, identifying her 69-year-old father, Morris Washington, as one of the deceased victims.
“The ironic thing is that he was on dialysis and didn’t even let that stop him. So this is very tragic,” she said.
Stewart said there’s now a big hole left in her heart with her father gone. She wants everyone to remember him for his kind, graceful, and loving personality.
“He was very outgoing and encouraging. I know he was at peace. He always had a smile on his face. He was loved by all his siblings, nieces, and nephews. He’ll definitely be missed,” she said. “Please keep us in your prayers. I’ll also be praying for all those affected by this horrific act. I pray to God we’ll get the ability to forgive, so we can move on and heal.”
Mercurio said the fire destroyed 10 units in the complex. Property damage aside, he said the biggest losses are his long-time residents and his property manager of 33 years, Donald Lee Hall. He shared that Hall didn’t have any family, but they considered each other brothers.
“You can’t match what you’ll miss from this guy. He’s one of a kind. Just an amazing guy. He’ll give you the shirt off his back. He’d willingly do anything for you,” said Mercurio.
“Duke,” a dog they shared that helped guard the property, was also shot in the attack and ran away during the chaos. But after a day full of tremendous loss, Mercurio received one piece of good news. A good Samaritan, William Baldwin, who lives a few blocks away, found the German Shepherd wounded in his yard and immediately contacted Houston SPCA for aid.
“It means quite a bit. I didn’t think I’d be this emotional. Having Duke will be a good memory for Don. He loved that dog,” Mercurio said.
After posting online in a neighborhood app, Baldwin said he saw a report and was able to lead Mercurio back to Duke. Reporters captured the emotional reunion at Houston SPCA Monday afternoon. Baldwin is an art dealer and also created a fundraiser to donate proceeds from all sales between now and September 7th to the people impacted.
“He’s (Baldwin) their hero. This guy. What he did, who’s going to do that in this day and time? But I tell ya. What happened this weekend, I was just telling my secretary over here, I have seen so much kindness that I haven’t seen in years,” Mercurio said.
“I’m not a hero. I just do what I can and what I think is right,” Baldwin said.
Mercurio and neighbors shared the name of the suspect and third victim with reporters, but their names are being withheld until official identification from the medical examiner’s office.
Houston SPCA encourages all pet owners to get their animals microchipped. Their injured stray animal ambulance can also be reached anytime at (713) 880-4357 (HELP).