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Last updated on Monday, April 9, 2012
(TULSA, OKLAHOMA) - Two white men accused in a spate of shootings in predominantly black neighborhoods of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will make their first court appearance today, as authorities work to determine whether the violence that left three people dead was racially motivated.
Authorities are digging into the backgrounds of Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 33, who are charged with three counts of murder and two counts of shooting with intent to kill in connection with last week's shootings that also wounded two people.
The pair was arrested early Sunday after a series of tips that led investigators to England's burned pickup, a vehicle that matched a description reported at the crime scenes, according to their arrest reports.
Local and federal authorities stopped short of categorizing the violence as a hate crime.
"We have yet to analyze all the information to understand the motivations of these subjects in this case," said Jim Finch, the head of the FBI's Oklahoma office.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan said the investigation was still ongoing. "We are going to explore any possible motives," he told reporters Sunday afternoon.
As part of the investigation, authorities were examining England's use of a racial slur on his Facebook page to mark the anniversary of his father's 2010 killing.
A day before the shootings, England wrote on his Facebook page that it was the second anniversary of his father's death "at the hands of a f***ing nigger." The entry also noted his girlfriend's recent suicide.
While the relationship between England and Watts remained unclear, arrest reports said they shared the same address - a home on the northern outskirts of Tulsa.
A couple arriving at the home on Sunday, who identified themselves as England's relatives, said England's father was shot to death in April 2010, and England had been left to care for his 6-month-old child after his girlfriend shot and killed herself in front of him a few months ago.
"His mind couldn't take it anymore, I guess," the man who called himself England's uncle said, adding, "I guess it just snapped his mind."
On England's Facebook page, a friend warned him not to "do anything stupid" after England posted a message Friday that read "It just mite be the time to call it quits."
"I hate to say it like that but I'm done if something does happen tonite be ready for another funeral later," England wrote.
"It's hard not to go off between that and sheran I'm gone in the head," he wrote, referring to his girlfriend. The Facebook page was taken down Sunday afternoon.
Investigators would not comment Sunday on any possible link between Friday's shootings and the death of England's father.
The shootings began about 1 a.m. Friday in north Tulsa. The first victim, 49-year-old Dannaer Fields, died at a hospital. Two others were shot just three minutes later, but survived and were released from the hospital Sunday, Jordan said.
Authorities say another person was shot and killed about 2 a.m. The body of a third victim was found around 8 a.m. next to a funeral home, though investigators believe he was shot hours earlier. Jordan identified the two as William Allen and Bobby Clark.
Watts and England were arrested shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday after police found the burned vehicle, registered to England, on Saturday night, leading them to put him under surveillance and get warrants to arrest him and search his home, the police reports said.
Police have found a weapon they believe was involved the case, though investigators were still working to determine which of the suspects may have fired the fatal shots, said Tulsa Police Maj. Walter Evans, who led the task force assembled to probe the shootings.
About 30 representatives from four law enforcement agencies - the Tulsa police, Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI - had been working around the clock looking for those responsible for the shootings. News of the arrests came as a relief to residents, many of whom had changed their daily habits since the shooting.
Residents, particularly those in the black community, are sensitive to issues of racial conflict in Tulsa. The city of about 400,000 was scene of a 1921 race riot - considered one of the worst in the nation - that destroyed the famed Greenwood District, a wealthy black enclave known as the black "Wall Street."
"A lot of people in my community were afraid that they couldn't go outside. They didn't know if they could even go to church, didn't know if they could go to the grocery store," City Councilman Jack Henderson said.
CNN's Ross Levitt and Maria P. White contributed to this report.
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