A suspected killer stalked three victims, following them onto buses, getting off after they did, following them on foot and opening fire in what Philadelphia police Friday called a “random act of violence.”
It remains unclear why the suspect, Derrick Jones of the West Oak Lane neighborhood, targeted the three men, police said. But the killings are similar in several ways: all three victims lived in the same neighborhood as Jones; all three were getting off a SEPTA bus; and all three are Black men. They also had another thing in common, investigators said: None of them knew Jones.
“This is a total random act of violence, which we may never get to the bottom of and uncover why,” Philadelphia Homicide Capt. Jason Smith said.
The slayings happened in two separate shootings on June 28 and July 7. Jones was arrested Thursday after investigators tracked him to his home, using surveillance video that showed how he picked out his victims and followed the same script in the seemingly random killings, Philadelphia Police Department Capt. Jason Smith said.
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In the first shooting, Jones took the life of 20-year-old Zamir Syrus, Smith said.
Surveillance showed Jones getting onto a SEPTA bus at Broad Street and Olney Avenue at 10:01 p.m., three minutes before Syrus boarded the same bus, Smith said. At 10:16 p.m., Syrus got off at Broad Street and Chelten Avenue, while Jones got off a minute later at the next stop, the captain said.
Syrus was walking north on Broad Street as Jones walked toward him in the opposite direction, passing him before stopping, removing something from his waistband – “presumably a firearm” – turning around, running after Syrus with both arms extended and firing several shots at the victim’s back, Smith said. Investigators recovered six spent bullet casings.
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Syrus was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he died.
Jones used a similar playbook in the alleged killing of two other men who were heading home from work on July 7, according to Smith.
That night, cameras showed Jones following 20-year-old Justin Robert Smith and 21-year-old Tyheim Tucker onto a train on SEPTA’s Broad Street line in North Philadelphia at 10:11 p.m., the captain said. The suspect followed the victims to the Olney Transportation Center, where he then continued to follow them onto a bus, Smith said.
Around 10:40 p.m., the victims got off the bus at 68th and Ogontz avenues. Jones got off one stop later and walked back in the direction of the victims, passing them on the opposite side of the street, Smith said.
The pair then continued walking north on Ogontz Avenue and then west on 68th Avenue, Smith said. Jones, meanwhile, continued walking south on Ogontz Avenue and then west on Independence Avenue before quickly walking northbound through a rear driveway and catching up to the victims, the captain said.
As the pair walked past the driveway, Jones opened fire, striking them multiple times before fleeing, Smith said. The victims were declared dead at the scene, where investigators found 13 spent bullet casings.
On Thursday, police officers and SWAT members executed a search warrant at an apartment on the 6900 block of Forrest Avenue, where Jones lived with his grandmother and a younger sister, Smith said.
There, they found Jones and a Glock handgun with an extended magazine containing 31 live rounds of the same caliber bullets used in the murders of the three men, Smith said. They also found 76 live rounds the same caliber, as well as clothing believed to have been worn by Jones during the killings, according to Smith.
Ballistic investigators determined that the bullets used in the slayings matched the bullets found in Jones’ home and that they were fired from the same gun also found in the home, the captain said.
Upon his arrest, Jones refused to give a statement, deepening the mystery around what possibly motivated the slayings, Smith said. At no time did it appear that Jones had any interaction with the victims, nor did he have any relation to them, Smith said.
“The motive is unknown, but that is the burning question. Why? Why did Mr. Jones murder, in cold blood, three males?” the captain said.
At the time of the killings, Jones was out on probation after pleading guilty in 2019 to firearm offenses and stealing a vehicle, Smith said. He was sentenced to 11 ½ to 23 months of confinement and two years of probation, Smith said.
Jones was regularly checking in with his probation officer before the killings, Smith said. He was also arrested twice for juvenile offenses, which are sealed, the captain noted.
The gun Jones allegedly used in the killings had no record of an owner, he added.
Jones has been charged with three counts of murder and related crimes, Smith said. Investigators were also looking into whether Jones may have been involved in other crimes.
It was unclear if Jones had retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.