PHOENIX, AZ -- Phoenix police say the gunning down of an interracial couple by a stranger in a local Phoenix park is being investigated as a possible hate crime. A 39-year-old white female was shot to death after being confronted with a racist question about being with her black boyfriend, Jeffrey Wellmaker.
The couple was out for a walk in La Palma Park in Phoenix early Saturday morning when a heavily tattooed man with a shaved head approached them and asked Wellmaker, "What are you doing with that white woman?"
The couple tried to ignore the question and immediately walked away. The gunman followed on foot for a short distance, then got into the passenger seat of a nearby car. The car followed the couple for approximately half a mile before the gunman fired two shots from the passenger window, and the car sped away.
Both the 39-year-old woman and 48-year-old Wellmaker were hit. The woman, who has not yet been identified by police, was transported to the hospital where she died later Saturday. Wellmaker did not sustain serious physical injury.
Phoenix police officer James Holmes says he cannot say for certain that the shooting was a hate crime, "but it does lead us in that direction just because of the fact that the suspect made a comment to the race of both victims," explaining, "He's bald. He's got tattoos. He's making a comment about a white woman with a black man. One could assume that it might be a hate crime."
The suspect has not been identified and is described as a white male, about 5'6", heavily tattooed. The suspect fled the scene in a white four-door car with tinted windows.
Phoenix has experienced racially motivated shootings in the past and is home to a large number of hate groups. Most notably, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death four days after 9/11 because his attackers mistakenly believed he was Arab. In 2003, Avtar Singh Cheira was shot by strangers who yelled, just before shooting him, "Go back to where you came from!"