Phoenix freeway shootings
|Phoenix freeway shootings|
The Mini Stack, near where numerous shootings have occurred
A map of freeways in Phoenix, including other roads which are being investigated as possible links to the shootings
|Location||Interstate 10, State Route 202, Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.|
|Date||August 27, 2015– September 10, 2015|
|Target||Vehicles along local freeways|
|Leslie Allen Merritt Jr.|
The Phoenix freeway shootings, also known as the I-10 shootings, are a series of incidents that occurred between August 27 and September 10, 2015, along Interstate 10 and State Route 202 in Phoenix, Arizona. All of the incidents have resulted in bullet or projectile damage to cars, along with one physical injury to a teenage girl who was hurt by broken glass. Presently, there have been eleven incidents on the freeway, including eight with a gun. Additionally, there has been at least one confirmed copycat incident.
On September 18, 2015, Governor Doug Ducey said on Twitter that a suspect in the main shootings was in custody. The suspect was identified as 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. and was originally tied to the first four incidents. However, on April 22, 2016, prosecutors announced they would be dropping all charges against Merritt.
Since August 27, when the first vehicle was struck, eleven vehicles have been struck, including a box truck and an empty tour bus. Eight of these strikes were by bullets, while the three others were by unspecified projectiles. Ten of the incidents occurred on Interstate 10, while the eleventh was on State Route 202. The incidents seemingly stopped after September 10.
On September 11, a man and woman driving a car were taken into custody in relation to the shootings. The woman was later released, but the 19-year-old male suspect was kept in police custody, as sources stated that he boasted about the shootings to friends. He was later arrested on an unrelated marijuana charge. Later that day, the Department of Public Safety stated that there may be multiple shooters involved in the incidents.
Road debris shattering windows also played a role in the investigation, as shattered windows were often investigated as being part of the spree. On September 16, an incident occurred on Interstate 10, where a driver attempted to pass a car, only to have the car speed up and supposedly shot at their window. The driver was able to follow the car and get a description to police, although police later stated that road debris caused the window damage.
On September 18, 2015, it was reported via Governor Ducey on Twitter that a suspect was in custody after a SWAT raid. He was later identified as 21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. He was arrested without incident at a Wal-Mart store in suburban Glendale. Merritt was previously charged twice in 2013 for unrelated crimes, the first for failing to stop at the scene of a damaged vehicle, and the second for assault and criminal damage. He pleaded guilty to the first charge, while the second charge was later dismissed. Prior to his arrest for the freeway shootings, he was working as a landscaper.
Police say he held anti-government and anti-police views. They also stated that they believed the firearm used in the shootings was a handgun. The next day, it was announced that Merritt was linked to the first four shootings through a 9mm handgun he owned. He was charged with four counts each of aggravated assault, criminal damage, disorderly conduct, discharging a firearm within city limits, carrying out a drive-by shooting, and intentional acts of terrorism; and his bail was set at $1 million. At his arraignment, Merritt claimed that he did not commit the shootings he was accused of and that his gun had been at a pawn shop for the preceding two months. However, investigators stated the gun was not pawned during that time, though it was pawned after the fourth shooting occurred. Merritt's father criticized the arrest and legal proceedings, claiming that the police department, under immense public pressure to make an arrest, was using him as a scapegoat.
On September 23, 2015 Merritt was formally charged with a total of fifteen felony counts. They included three counts of carrying out a drive-by shooting, five counts of aggravated assault, three counts of unlawfully discharging a firearm, three counts of disorderly conduct, and one count of endangerment. Prosecutors did not file terrorism charges since terrorism-related laws focused primarily on protecting public utilities and did not encompass freeway shootings. The charges since have been dismissed. He entered a not guilty plea during his October 1 arraignment hearing.
In April 2016, the charges against Merritt were dropped, and Merritt later filed a lawsuit against state officials. However, as of September 22, 2017, Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead stated that Merritt was still "our guy" though he has not been prosecuted since his April 2016 release.
On September 13, three eighteen-year-old suspects were arrested for using a slingshot to shoot objects at cars and pedestrians east of Phoenix. They were caught when a couple that had a window shot out noted the license plate of the vehicle involved. The three shooters — identified as Christian Cook, Albert German, and Aaron Nottingham — were caught after two different witnesses reported the license plate number of the vehicle they were driving within 10 minutes. The three admitted to targeting cars and pedestrians and were arrested shortly after. They were later released, and Cook was arrested again for a separate incident.
- Serial Shooter, a similar crime spree that occurred from 2005 to 2006 in the Phoenix area
- Ohio highway sniper attacks, a similar crime spree that occurred in 2003 along Interstate 270 in Ohio
- Maryvale serial shooter, a similar crime spree that occurred in 2016 in Phoenix, mainly the Maryvale neighborhood.
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BREAKING: We got him! DPS SWAT team is in custody of the individual suspected of I-10 shootings. Apprehended moments ago.
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