A teenager arrested Friday in the Dallas slaying of an Iraqi immigrant shot and killed as he took pictures of his first snowfall was looking for the person who had shot at his girlfriend's apartment when he randomly came upon the victim and his family and indiscriminately opened fire, police say.
Detectives do not believe the suspect, Nykerion Nealon, 17, knew Ahmed Al-Jumaili, 36, or his ethnicity when the shooting took place just before midnight on March 4, Dallas Police Department Maj. Jeff Cotner said. He said that removed any concerns that the shooting may have been a hate crime.
Nelson was arrested at 6:53 a.m. Friday and charged with Al-Jumaili's murder. He is currently being held without bond.
Police are investigating whether gangs were involved.
In a statement released Friday, Al-Jumaili's widow, Zahraa Altaie, said:
This news of the suspect being caught will not bring back my beautiful Ahmed but it gives me some relief and I feel better knowing that this guy is in custody and justice is on its way. I also would like to thank the Dallas Police Department and all the people who helped our family in these last several days. We are so grateful for all the love and support from people all over the world who heard of Ahmed's story and have reached out to us to share in our sadness. Today we share with everyone our hope and relief that Ahmed's killer will face justice.
Fatal Snow Day Shooting Investigation
Al-Jumaili recently fled violence in his homeland and hoped to find a better life in Texas with his wife and brother. While the three were outside their home at the Walnut Bend Apartments March 4, enjoying their first snowfall, Al-Jumaili was shot in the chest. He was transported to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where he died shortly after midnight March 5.
"The family was taking photos," Cotner said during the first news conference after the shooting. "That's the first time they had seen snow. A pretty snowfall brings out the child in all of us."
Days after the shooting, Dallas police released surveillance video acquired from a nearby elementary school that showed four people walking in the apartment complex near the time Al-Jumaili was killed. Cotner said a witness noticed one of the people in the video wearing a distinctive hat.
In a news conference Friday, Cotner said a tipster went to the Richardson Police Department on Tuesday and provided detectives with a nickname, Kaca, in relation to the person wearing the hat in the video. Police later learned Kaca is Nealon's nickname.
On March 11, homicide detectives discovered Nealon called police at 11:48 p.m. March 4, about 10 minutes after Al-Jumaili was shot, and said he was inside his girlfriend's apartment on the 1300 block of Audelia Road when someone shot at the residence at about a half-hour before.
On March 12, Nealon was interviewed by police and denied that he left his girlfriend's apartment after the shooting. He was then allowed to return to his apartment.
Police said found an unfired 7.62 cartridge in Nealon's room after he gave them permission to conduct a search. Cotner said Friday that 15 7.62-caliber casings commonly used in assault rifles were recovered at the scene of the murder.
Cotner said Nealon and his roommate were both taken into custody Thursday night and interviewed by police. Investigators said the pair gave conflicting statements, but that both admitted to being at the scene of the murder.
Nealon's roommate told police Nealon called and asked him to come to his girlfriend's apartment on the night of March 4 and that he was present when someone opened fire on her residence. He said after the shooting Nealon called two others and the four then went to Nealon's apartment to get an assault rifle. Then, police said, the four went to find the individual who shot at his girlfriend's apartment.
The witness said Nealon carried the rifle into the apartment complex and that he observed Al-Jumaili and his family playing in the snow and he also saw Nealon raise the rifle. The witness said he took cover behind mailboxes and heard one shot, followed by several more.
Cotner said Nealon wasn't aware of the identity or race of Al-Jumaili and his family, but that he did target them and begin shooting. Cotner said Friday that as Al-Jumaili ran, Nealon continued targeting and shooting at him.
The witness told police that after the shooting stopped all four then ran south toward a school and made their way back to Nealon's girlfriend's apartment, where they reported the earlier shooting.
Nealon gave detectives a conflicting story, placing himself at murder scene but said the witness did the shooting, police said. He also told police he was wearing the distinctive hat seen in the video.
Dallas police said the three with Nealon may also face charges. Meanwhile, investigators continue to look for the person who opened fire on Nealon's girlfriend's residence.
Al-Jumaili Escapes Violence to Find a Better Life
Family members said Al-Jumaili moved to Dallas from Iraq less than a month before the shooting.
He and his wife had only been married about a month when she moved to Dallas, leaving behind strife in Iraq. She had settled with family in an area of Dallas with a concentration of immigrants, particularly from the Middle East.
Al-Jumaili saved money for more than a year for the move to Texas by providing Internet connections to Iraqi homes, according to Mohammed Altaae. He arrived in February and the couple was reunited.
"For a young man and a young woman, oh God, so many dreams together," Altaae said. "They wanted to have children and educate them well. It was the dreams of young people."
The Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Crime Stoppers offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment in Al-Jumaili's death.
CAIR Dallas media affairs spokeswoman Alia Salem released the following statement:
We are very grateful the Dallas Police Department has worked so hard to bring these suspects in. The family is very grateful, and we are grateful for the support of the community and the media to keep the story relevant, and keep the reward relevant to the public. We are as grateful as you can be in situations such as these.
The Associated Press' David Warren contributed to this report.