Three Jacksonville men have been charged with capital murder in connection with the deaths of four people in Cherokee County on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Brent Dickson said during a news conference Jesse Pawlowski, 20; Billy Phillips, 37; and Dylan Welch, 21, are all in the Cherokee County Jail accused of killing two men and two women at a residence in the 1600 block of Texas Highway 110 North early Tuesday morning north of New Summerfield.
Dickson also identified the four victims as John Clinton, 18; Jeff Gerla, 47; Ami Hickey, 39; and Amanda Bain, 39.
All three men accused in the shooting were arraigned in the 2nd District Court at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Judge Chris Day said. Their bonds have been set at $1 million each.
Clinton’s body was in the driveway at the property, while the other three were found at a residence in the back of the land.
Dickson said the shooting was a result of a robbery that the three suspects intended to commit on Tuesday. He added the sheriff’s office believes the suspects met with Clinton before shooting him and then going into the home.
“I believe the robbery was planned and the murder was spontaneous. Our citizens are definitely safe now that these individuals are off the streets,” Dickson said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep them safe.”
The sheriff called the quadruple homicide a “senseless killing.”
Dickson confirmed that Hickey and Clinton were mother and son. Gerla and Clinton were in a dating relationship and Hickey and Bain were also dating. While same-sex relationships are involved, Dickson said authorities don’t believe the shooting is part of a hate crime.
“We believe their intent was strictly robbery, not due to their nature,” Dickson said.
On Tuesday afternoon, investigators were searching for a vehicle, a 2017 red Dodge Challenger, stolen from the property.
Dickson said Wednesday that a tip from the public led investigators to 209 Devereaux St. in Jacksonville to find three people at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Two of the people left in a vehicle and were taken into custody on unrelated charges during a traffic stop.
The U.S. Marshal’s Office and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office special investigations unit then went to 209 Devereaux and arrested a third person at that residence, Dickson said.
Interviews with Pawlowski, Phillips and Welch led to search warrants for 1016 West Rusk St. in Jacksonville.
“At that location, the vehicle that was stolen from the crime scene was located along with a handgun we believe that was used to commit the homicide,” Dickson said.
Dickson said the sheriff’s office believes a 9 mm handgun was used in the shooting.
The sheriff’s office then received a search warrant for a residence at the Castle on the Lake RV Park in Jacksonville. At that location, more property, including clothing and firearms, from the crime scene was found.
Dickson said the 209 Devereaux address belonged to Pawlowski’s family, while Phillips lived at Castle on the Lake RV Park.
Pawlowski confessed to his involvement in the homicide, Dickson said. Pawlowski and Phillips have criminal histories and are friends, while Welch was described as their associate, he added. All three in custody are suspected drug users.
The three suspects took one vehicle to the residence where the shooting occurred and left the property in their vehicle and the stolen one, Dickson said.
The elderly woman who lives in the front residence made the 911 call after seeing a dead body in her driveway. Dickson said her home was not targeted, and she is believed to be the mother of one of the victims.
The crime scene had zero witnesses and the elderly woman didn’t hear gunshots.
The sheriff’s office is working to determine if multiple people fired weapons at the victims or if it was one shooter, he said.
Dickson said the community can sleep a little safer thanks to the men and women in law enforcement and community members who assisted with tips.
“You have bad people everywhere you go and today it was in New Summerfield,” he said. “With these three behind bars, we know they won’t be involved in that anymore. We had a lot of good outside resources help us and the community really stepped up and helped us out.”
He also thanked the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office for their hard work along with other law enforcement agencies that offered help, like the Texas Rangers, Smith County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Police Department.
“Our department came in yesterday morning at 8 o’clock and members of our department left at 4 last night,” Dickson said. “And are back here at 9 o’clock this morning assuring that all the pieces fall together, in this case, to keep these guys behind bars and we give justice to the family members.”
Moving forward in the investigation, Dickson said several search warrants will be issued as the investigation continues to help the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office with the prosecution.
Parishioners, friends and families gathered Tuesday morning at the First Christian Church of Tyler entrance to celebrate the raising of a new bell tower that features a 30-foot-tall cross.
Attendees watched the church’s 110-foot-tall bell tower rise while remembering the replaced cross’ historical significance. The cross was used at the church’s previous location in downtown Tyler.
“It is the original cross that has been up there since 1965. We had to take it down a couple of years ago, we noticed it looked like it was listing a bit. We were afraid it might fall,” said Senior Pastor Chris Pulliam.
Two years ago when the cross seemed to be tilting, together, the church decided to bring the cross down. Pulliam said when the existing structure was taken down, the church received many phone calls about the cross.
“To some, it was unfortunate. To some, it was a real heartbreak. They were like, ‘Where’s our cross? We need our cross,’ and we all agreed that we need that up there. It just took a while to get it up there, but I think it’s going to be up there another 50 years plus until we have to do something again,” Pulliam said.
The entire structure was redesigned with the church’s original architectural style in mind. There will be lights and bells added to the tower to shine at night.
Two years later, the cross is back up on the church and Pulliam said the congregation loved the way it looked.
First Christian Church moved to its current location in 1965 after being in the downtown Tyler area. Some members who attended the bell tower raising have been with the church since ‘65.
The building was renovated in 2014, and Pulliam said adding the new tower was the last piece of the renovation.
“Our mission here is to speak and live for Christ in our community and world, so this is something for our community as they drive by, as they hear the bells, so it affects all of us,” Pulliam said. “There are like 80,000 cars that go through that intersection, so we hope it affects everyone in a positive way, a still, small voice that allows us to think of higher thoughts of God. This corner is such a main focus of the community. We are pleased to have that statement of faith.”
Nancy Grant, a Tyler resident and member of First Christian Church for 47 years, attended the tower raising ceremony as members took photos and videos of the historic moment, prayed and sang a hymns together.
“My granddaughter and I, some years ago, we watched the cross go down, and we’ve been through so many design plans that we couldn’t afford and we’ve missed having it up there. Since we’re a central location at the center of town, it’s something we wanted to get back,” Grant said.
She added that additional visitors have joined the church because of the bell tower and the cross.
“Our music will be starting soon. We’re having a little problem with that, but that’ll be starting soon,” Grant said. “It’s an important part of Tyler and we want the cross to be the center. That’s what it is for our church and that’s what it is here in Tyler.”
The church, located on the corner of South Broadway Avenue and Loop 323, will have a celebration on Sunday to celebrate the last piece of improvement to their renovations.
Gov. Greg Abbott says he will not impose another statewide mask mandate, despite COVID-19 cases being on the rise again.
“There will be no mask mandate imposed, and the reasons for that are very clear,” Abbott told KPRC-TV in Houston on Tuesday. “There are so many people who have immunities to COVID, whether it be through the vaccination, whether it be through their own exposure and their recovery from it, which would be acquired immunity.”
It would be “inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask,” he said.
During a news conference Wednesday in Houston, Abbott went further and expressed blanket resistance to any new restrictions to fight the virus. He said Texas is “past the time of government mandates” and “into the time for personal responsibility.”
While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors in most settings, the World Health Organization is still encouraging everyone to wear masks while inside.
As the delta variant has spread, some key pandemic indicators have increased in Texas. On Sunday, the state’s positivity rate — the ratio of cases to tests — went above 10% for the first time since February, a threshold that Abbott has previously identified as dangerous.
Abbott lifted the statewide mask requirement in March. The mandate had been in place since summer of last year.
Two months later, he announced he was banning government entities — including public schools — from mandating masks. Abbott reiterated Tuesday that Texas schoolchildren will not face mask requirements as they return to school later this summer.
“Kids will not be forced by government or by schools to wear masks in school,” Abbott said. “They can by parental choice wear a mask, but there will be no government mandate requiring masks.”
“I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.” (Psalm 119:30)