OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The murder of a man who was helping feed homeless people in East Oakland “is an outrage,” Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said Thursday.
Batts said 29-year-old Paris Powell, who was known on the streets as “Brother John,” was “trying to make a difference in the lives of homeless people.”
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said, “This one is not explainable at all. I hope it was a case of mistaken identity.”
Quan said she plans to meet with Powell’s family to express her condolences.
Powell was pronounced dead at 10:25 p.m. Wednesday.
Oakland police said he was shot in an industrial area in the 1000 block of 47th Avenue at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday while he, his wife and two step-children, ages 3 and 7, were handing out food to homeless people.
KCBS’ Anna Duckworth Reports:
At noon on Thursday, there was a small vase with red and orange flowers near the site where Powell was shot.
Powell’s death was mourned by 61-year-old formerly homeless man William Holloway, who witnessed the shooting incident and said Powell regularly gave him food and checked up on him.
Holloway now works as a security guard at a pallet company in the block where the shooting occurred. He also lives in a tiny two-room house on the pallet company’s property.
Holloway said Powell, his wife and step-children were in the midst of giving him food when Powell was shot.
He said Powell and his family were in a Ford Aerostar van when a young, light-skinned black man who was in a late model turquoise Ford Aerostar van came around the corner and opened fire.
Oakland police have not provided a description of the suspect or his van.
The suspect, who was alone, “fired three shots right away and then fired two more after that,” Holloway said.
Powell was shot in the face and “caught most of the bullets,” Holloway said.
Holloway said he ducked down to avoid getting hit and Powell’s wife and stepchildren started screaming after Powell was hit.
He said Powell’s wife, who is pregnant, was grazed by a bullet but she did not notice until about 30 minutes later because she was in shock from the shooting.
The 3-year-old girl also suffered a minor flesh wound, Holloway said.
He said he and Powell’s family did not have a cell phone, so he rushed over to a nearby callbox to summon help from police.
“I hope they catch the suspect but I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Holloway said.
He said he was too busy dodging bullets to get a good look at the suspect or get the license plate number of the suspect’s van.
Batts said he thinks there is a good chance the suspect will be caught, saying, “The Oakland Police Department is good at tracking down bad guys.”
But he did not provide any specific information about why the suspect might be caught.
Batts said there is a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect.
Holloway said Powell, whom he only knew as Brother John, has provided food to homeless people in a wide swath of East Oakland for the past year.
He said about three months ago Powell told him that he was frustrated because the homeless people he was trying to help did not appreciate his efforts.
Holloway said he told Powell that he appreciated his work and “as long as one person appreciates you, that’s good.”
He said Powell “smiled at me and said, ‘Thank you, Bill.’”
Holloway said he’s not afraid to give his name to reporters or have his face shown on television even though he could be a target because he’s a witness to the shooting.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”
However, Holloway said the pallet company’s owner wants him to leave because he thinks the suspect might retaliate against Holloway.
“I’m a liability now,” he said.
Holloway said he might become homeless again and sleep underneath the BART tracks that are near the pallet company.
“If I have to go, I have to go,” Holloway said.
Told that Holloway might become homeless again, Oakland police Lt. Ersie Joyner said city officials would try to provide help for him.
“We’ll do what we can for him,” Joyner said.
Anyone with information about the shooting is encouraged to call the Police Department’s homicide section at (510) 238-3821 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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