Two BR slayings possibly linked; BRPD walks back some media reports

Donald Smart (Source: Facebook)
Donald Smart (Source: Facebook)
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Police are investigating the possibility that the shooting deaths of two men in Baton Rouge this week might be connected.

Both victims are black and appear to have been shot at random. Also, police reports say that ballistic tests confirmed the same gun was used in both shootings.

"There are some similarities to those two shootings as they are in some other shootings that have occurred," said BRPD spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely.

The first shooting Tuesday night near Florida Blvd involved a homeless man later identified as Bruce Cofield, 59.

The second shooting late Thursday night on Alaska Street left Donald Smart, 49, dead. Smart was walking to his longtime job at Louie's near LSU.

RELATED: Police identify man killed in Alaska St. shooting; 7th BR homicide in 7 days

Late Friday afternoon McKneely would only say that investigators are exploring the possibility that the two cases are "possibly connected."

"We're finding similarities in some of the shootings. We're creating a database and getting some of the information on some of the individuals that we feel might be involved in some of the shootings," he added.

Police records also show ballistic evidence ties the two crimes to the same gun. The Advocate newspaper reported late Friday that, according to police records, an "all-out hunt" is on for the suspected triggerman, believed to be a white man of medium build with a military style haircut who may be wearing a tactical vest.

McKneely walked back some of those details in an interview with 9News Friday evening, cautioning the public that the description of the gunman may not be accurate and was included in an internal memo sent to law enforcement agencies across the state but that was not meant to be released to the public.

"It's inconsistent and it hasn't been confirmed," McKneely warned. "That was not for the media. That was not information that we wanted to disperse at this particular time because it's subject to change and we do not want to get misinformation out there."

Paul Guidry, criminologist at Baton Rouge Community College, says while people are eager for answers, police often work up several possibilities that could be true but could also turn out to be false as any investigation unfolds. It is something he says could have a negative effect on the case.

"That's going to probably set a lot of people on edge," he said. "You could have a wrong arrest or something like that or accuse someone of doing something when they really didn't do it. It might not even be the individual they described and it could be someone totally different so we have to be careful with that."

Now that a possible description is out there, Guidry is concerned about what is next.

"What's going to happen now," he questioned. "Is somebody going to go out and try to seek out their own justice?"

McKneely wants the public to know the police department is working and that getting to the bottom of this investigation is a top priority.

"We want the community to feel safe and know that we're doing our job," he added.

Police are examining at least one piece of surveillance video that may have captured a portion of Tuesday night's shooting.

If you have any information that can help detectives solve this case, call Crime Stoppers at 344-7867.

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