A man suspected of shooting three people in an Oklahoma City restaurant on Thursday night came to the attention of local police in January, after he posted hundreds of fliers across the city in which he warned of “demons in cloned transexual (sic) bodies” and asked people to visit his YouTube channel.
Such behavior by the suspected shooter, reported in January by local LGBT advocates, raises questions about whether a more proactive law enforcement reaction might have prevented yet another public shooting. On Friday, a police spokesman said then the man’s only interaction with the police was over a domestic incident 15 years before.
The incident also renewed debate over whether states should make it easier for civilians to carry guns without a permit, a measure gun rights organizations say would make it easier for civilians to respond to random attacks. Earlier this month, Oklahoma’s Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed adults to carry handguns without a permit, angering gun rights advocates.
Authorities said Alexander Tilghman, 28, and a legal gun owner, opened fire at Louie’s On The Lake during dinner service. Three people were wounded and one man was injured trying to escape. The gunman was shot dead by two bystanders.
Troy Stevenson, director of the LGBT rights group Freedom Oklahoma, said Tilghman was the same man who distributed flyers across Oklahoma City earlier this year, warning of demons taking over people’s bodies. The LGBT publication The Gayly interviewed Tilghman, who said he was “trying to find real people out there. Everywhere I go, there is nothing but fake people”.
The Gayly said it discussed Tilghman twice with the local police department, which sent an officer to its office to request an interview transcript and a statement. The Gayly reported that a public information officer said: “This guy needs to be on our radar.”
Speaking after the shooting, Oklahoma City police captain Bo Mathews said the only interaction police had with Tilghman was during a domestic assault and battery call when Tilghman was 13. A police report from that incident, in 2003, indicated Tilghman was arrested after his mother told police he punched her several times in a dispute over a vacuum cleaner. Investigators were trying to determine a motive behind the restaurant attack, Mathews said.
A Facebook page police said belonged to Tilghman contained a video in which he claimed his television was possessed by the devil. The page used the same profile photo as a YouTube channel on which a man who appeared to be Tilghman described demons possessing his TV and being surrounded by computers. The man begged for help from “a real human”, saying he was suicidal, lonely and “really losing it”.
A man who identified himself as Tilghman’s brother told television station KOCO Tilghman needed treatment, saying: “Nobody reached out to him, you know. He was crying for help.”
Flyers with similar messages to those posted in January were plastered all over a vehicle that Tilghman drove, said Ryan Beaulac, who said he frequently saw Tilghman at his apartment complex in north-west Oklahoma City. Beaulac said he saw Tilghman acting strangely on Wednesday night.
“He was twitchy, grabbing his hair and acting weird,” the 35-year-old said. “I was uncomfortable and definitely wanted to get away from him.”
Tilghman was licensed as an armed security guard and was legally authorized to carry a firearm, said Gerald Konkler, general counsel for the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, which certifies law enforcement officers and other armed personnel across the state. Obtaining such a license requires a background check and at least 72 hours of training.
Mathews said the shooting appeared to be random but noted that Tilghman drove to the restaurant and wore protective gear for his ears and eyes.
“It looked like his mind was made up that he was going to discharge his firearm once he got there,” Mathews said. The investigation was ongoing he said, confirming that Tilghman’s mental health was being looked into.
Police said Tilghman was armed with a pistol. A 39-year-old woman and two girls were shot and wounded and a man broke his arm while trying to escape. All four victims were in good condition, police said on Friday.
Mathews, the police spokesman, praised the two people who retrieved firearms from their vehicles and “were able to shoot the suspect and put an end to a very dangerous situation”.
A woman who answered the phone at the home believed to belong to Tilghman’s mother declined to comment when contacted by the Associated Press.
The National Rifle Association said in a tweet on Friday that the shooting was an example of “how the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.
In Indianapolis on Friday, a witness said an unarmed science teacher disarmed a student who shot and wounded the teacher and another student. The witness told ABC News the teacher, Jason Seaman, threw a basketball at the gunman before swatting the gun away.
In April in Nashville, Tennessee, unarmed restaurant patron James Shaw Jr wrestled an assault-style rifle away from a gunman at a Waffle House restaurant. Four people were killed in that shooting.
In its Friday tweet, the NRA also criticised Governor Mary Fallin, for blocking the “constitutional carry” bill.