Update: Kansas City police said early Wednesday morning that they have arrested a suspect in an assault at a Northland motel and are investigating whether he is connected to the fatal shooting of three people in a south Kansas City neighborhood.
The man was armed with a gun, police said.
Previous story: Three people lay dead and two others badly wounded Tuesday in a south Kansas City cul-de-sac populated by mostly older residents who thought of their neighborhood as a distinctly calm haven.
The deadliest crime in the city in more than two and half years shattered that comfort at midday and launched a mystery underlined by a suspect still on the run after nightfall.
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Police found an SUV they believe the suspect used to flee the carnage — abandoned some 30 miles north of the murder scene — about two hours after the bloodshed.
The vehicle turned up near a Northland Motel 6 that was the site of an unarmed assault at midafternoon Tuesday. Police said they were uncertain whether the same man who shot three dead had, without a weapon, assaulted three other people at the motel.
But the discovery of the getaway vehicle — it belonged to one of the shooting victims — four blocks from the motel launched a chaotic manhunt through fast-food joints, strip malls and neighborhoods southwest of Interstate 29 and Barry Road.
What prompted the deadly gunfire that killed two women and one man in south Kansas City was unclear late Tuesday.
Police at the murder scene in the Woodbridge neighborhood east of the Blue Hills Country Club were tight-lipped about a possible motive. Early in the investigation, they said the incident did not appear to have started with a robbery. They said the victims were all adults.
If the Northland crime and the south Kansas City shootings can be linked, said police spokesman Tye Grant, “that could be very vital.”
The proximity and timing of the discovery of the getaway car and the fights at the motel made it hard, Grant said, for police “to ignore the possibility that they could be related” to the killings.
Still, he was unwilling to say the same person wreaked havoc at both ends of the city.
About 8:30 p.m., Grant said police were also unsure if the man who roughed up three people at the motel was armed, on foot or in a car.
Meantime, the events left people from the respective areas shuddering.
Jo Lombardino, a longtime member of the Woodbridge Homes Association, said the neighborhood long considered itself one of the city’s safest. Residents she talked to Tuesday, she said, “are just heartbroken.”
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“This is just mind-boggling,” she said. “We are a very secure community.”
Rick Mayer, president of the Woodbridge Homes Association, described an “everybody-helps-everybody-else kind of neighborhood.”
“I’m absolutely in shock about this,” he said.
The side of the neighborhood where the crime occurred is occupied primarily by older residents, while the other side of the development has many younger residents with children.
“Everybody feels comfortable and safe here,” Mayer said.
After the killings Tuesday, officers went searching door-to-door. Residents of the neighborhood were told to stay inside. Schools in the area were also locked down as a precaution for short periods Tuesday afternoon.
All they had to go on was that the suspected killer was wearing a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt.
Residents absent from the neighborhood when the violence hit, and those with loved ones living there, were routed to the South Patrol Division headquarters. There they were ushered in and out, anxiously trying to sort out what had happened.
Kathy Hurst, who came to the police command post at Wornall and Blue Ridge Boulevard, said she was concerned about her mother-in-law, who lives in the neighborhood. Hurst said she reached a cousin who also lives nearby and was told that police said to stay inside.
Kansas City police were called about 1 p.m. Tuesday to a home on Woodbridge Lane and reported finding one person dead outside. Officers entered the home in a search for suspects or other victims and discovered two other injured people. They were taken to different hospitals.
A short time later, officers reported finding two more people dead in another residence in the cul-de-sac. Officers methodically searched other houses. In some cases they had to break into houses when their knocks went unanswered.
At one point, at least, police were looking for a man toting a shotgun.
When they found the SUV parked near the Motel 6 a half-hour’s drive from the murder scene, they eventually said they were looking for a black man in his late 20s or early 30s. He was described as about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds, unshaven and wearing dark pants, a black rag on his head and no shirt.
The sudden, large-scale manhunt — dozens of officers combing the area in squad cars and on foot — set the area on edge.
Phil Beoucher and his wife, of Hays, Kan., had a reservation Tuesday at the Motel 6 and were surprised to be confronted by crime scene tape. Beoucher said the woman in the motel office told him two people had been assaulted there earlier in the day.
Crime scene investigators remained at the motel Tuesday night, and a room on the second floor was taped off.
The killings come during a year in which the city was on pace for its lowest homicide total in more than 40 years. Before Tuesday, Kansas City had 43 homicides in 2014, compared to nearly 70 at the same time last year.
The city’s last triple homicide occurred in January 2012 at 39th Street and the Paseo.
The Star’s Matt Campbell and Mará Rose Williams contributed to this report.
Anyone who may have seen the suspect or has information about either crime is asked to call police or the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.