CEDAR RAPIDS — Gun violence erupted into a double killing early Saturday after an assailant fired “multiple shots” into a vehicle outside a southwest Cedar Rapids tobacco store, authorities said.
Two others were badly wounded in what police described as a “targeted” — and not random — altercation about 1:20 a.m. outside the Iowa Smoke Shop, 70 Kirkwood Court. They were hospitalized with what police said were “life-threatening” injuries.
Investigators sealed off the area for hours, and later were seen towing away a minivan and a sport utility vehicle.
Cedar Rapids police had not announced any arrests in the case and public safety spokesperson Greg Buelow said authorities likely would not release the names Saturday of those shot.
However, a relative identified one of those killed as her grandnephew, Matrell Johnson, 18, of Cedar Rapids.
Ida Johnson said she received a phone call about 1:30 a.m. Saturday telling her he may have been shot. She went to a local hospital where a chaotic and emotional scene unfolded.
“There were probably 150 people there,” she said. “Everyone was crying, and everybody was trying to find what happened to their kids.”
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Johnson said her grandnephew and other victims had attended the funeral Friday morning of Tyrice D. “Reese” Douglas — who died on May 6 as the result of injuries sustained in a December shooting.
Police have charged Ezekiel C. Phillips Jr., 30, of Cedar Rapids, in connection with that December shooting and he is being held in jail.
Later that night, after the funeral, Johnson said, her grandnephew and three others headed to a party that took place not far from Saturday morning’s shooting.
How and why Matrell Johnson and others ended up at the store’s parking lot was not known.
The smoke shop was closed Saturday afternoon. A sign stated it would remain closed the rest of the day and reopen Sunday morning.
A Cedar Rapids police database shows there have been nine calls for service at the smoke shop in the last year, though calls listed can include actions initiated by an officer. The log shows two alarms calls, one business check, one report of a damaged vehicle, one theft and one public service call.
The shooting marks the city’s third homicide incident so far this year, and its first double homicide since April 2014, Buelow said.
The city’s first homicide of 2019 occurred in February when Tenacious Harris, 20, was shot in the 1800 block of A Avenue NE. He died a few days later and no arrests have been made.
The city’s second homicide this year happened Feb. 24 when a fire broke out at the Hawthorne Hill apartment complex on C Street SW. Police said Steven Balvin, 65, was seriously injured in the fire and died a few days later. The fire was determined to be set intentionally. Dallas Tullis, 24, was charged with Balvin’s murder.
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In the city’s last double homicide, 22-year-old Quintrell Perkins and 20-year-old Sierrah Simmons were found dead inside a home at 1708 Fourth Avenue SE. Kendu Petties, who was 33 when convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths, is serving two life sentences.
Ida Johnson said her grandnephew was a “good kid.” Matrell was one of the teens who police recognized for trying to intervene and stop a brawl that took place last summer at Cedar Valley Townhomes, 3000 J St. SW, she said.
“Everybody liked him,” Ida Johnson said. “He was a good kid. His mom — my niece — is having a really hard time dealing with this. That was her baby son.”
Police say the shooting was likely unrelated to another incident that was reported at the 100 block of 29th Street Drive SE. Police said that incident occurred about an hour earlier and left one person seriously injured.
Authorities asked anyone with information about the shooting to contact the Cedar Rapids Police Department at 319-286-5491 or Linn County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-CS-CRIME.
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B.A. Morelli of The Gazette contributed to this report.