A man told Dallas police he was angry about his living situation Monday morning when he picked a jogger at random in a popular Northeast Dallas park and attacked him with a "large-edged weapon," killing him.
An eyewitness to the brutal killing, identified only as Brandon, told NBC 5 he was cycling along the White Rock Creek Trail at Harry Moss Park when he saw a man hacking another man with a machete where the trail passes underneath the Walnut Hill Lane overpass.
During a news conference Monday afternoon, Dallas police Deputy Chief Rob Sherwin said 21-year-old Thomas Johnson admitted to killing a man at the park and then calling 911 from a nearby equestrian center to report a stabbing.
Police confirmed to NBC 5 that Johnson played football at Texas A&M in 2012.
After receiving several reports of a stabbing at the park, emergency responders arrived and transported the victim to nearby Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Sherwin was not sure if Johnson admitted to the crime when he called 911 or if he simply notified police a crime had taken place, but said Johnson later admitted to his role in the man's death.
"It appears that Mr. Johnson picked this victim at random. It's absolutely random. He just attacked him. He told our homicide detectives that he was angry about a situation and he just picked somebody to murder," Sherwin said. "I believe there's more to that story. It's just very unusual. It's quite shocking."
Brandon, who happened upon the alleged murder in progress, said he saw the man strike his victim six or seven times with the machete.
"As I get closer and closer I could tell it was a machete and there are repeated blows that are occurring. As I get closer, I could see what’s being hit is a person, laying face down on the ground," Brandon said. "It was apparent to me by the time I got close that there was nothing that could be done for the person."
Brandon said the killer yelled in his direction as he rode past the attack.
"I heard a little bit of a yell from behind. I assume it was the guy with the machete yelling to stop," Brandon said. "I just kept going and I just kept going."
Sherwin said police need help identifying the victim, a man between 25 and 30 years old who was not carrying any identification.
He said Johnson has a criminal history, but it didn't appear he had a history of violent crime. Johnson has been arrested and will be charged with murder, police said.
Johnson played for Texas A&M in 2012. He had three catches for 22 yards in A&M's 29-24 win at top-ranked Alabama. He disappeared a few days later and wasn't seen until he appeared at his family's Dallas home three days after that.
Jail records don't list an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
Lack of Lighting Creates 'Scary Spots' in City Park
Many bike riders and joggers who use the White Rock Creek Trail called it a "hidden gem" of the Parks & Recreations system but said there are also several spots that feel unsafe — especially where the trail hits an overpass.
Brandon told NBC 5 he'd taken hundreds of rides on the trail and he'd often thought the underpasses were a "scary spot."
"To actually come across something like this in that scary spot is crazy. It seems like something that needs to be addressed, maybe with additional lighting," Brandon said. "Then again, it could be a completely crazy person who did something crazy, and how do you stop that?"
Lee Hunt, who runs frequently on the trail, said he brings lighting of his own.
"I have to run with a headlamp along that trail, and I have a flashing light on my arm just so cyclists can see me because it’s pitch black. Especially when you go under the overpasses, it’s extremely dark. It’s the only way I can see what’s in front of me,” said Hunt.
Hunt said the trails can remain dark long after the sun comes up.
"I hope that after this attack they definitely consider some illumination under the overpasses because there’s none at the moment. Fair Oaks, Skillman, Walnut Hill — it’s pitch black in those spots," he said. "There are so many runners and riders out there every morning."
Marc Mumby, a member of the Friends of the White Rock Creek Trail community organization and a daily bike rider, said news of the attack "horrified" him, but he hopes people don’t get the mistaken impression the trail is dangerous.
"It’s always disturbing to hear something like this," he said. "It’s just unfortunate that it happened on the trail, a place where people go for recreation and fun and get out in a little bit of nature. It’s not going to spoil it but it makes you a little wary."
Mumby said his group is considering putting up fliers or updating its website with safety tips, but is waiting to hear more information about the police investigation.
Four miles away, Dallas police were investigating another homicide where an 18 year old's body, showing "obvious signs of homicidal violence," was pulled from a car that was found in a creek. Sherwin said Monday afternoon the cases are not connected.
NBC 5's Ellen Bryan and The Associated Press contributed to this report. We initially reported the body was found along the 3500 block of Walnut Hill Lane; we regret the error.