As Thursday’s deadly attack unfolded in Texas, with snipers injuring six people and killing five Dallas police officers, the scene was one of chaos and confusion. Three suspects are now in custody. A fourth is reported to be dead. The identities and motives of the perpetrators still remain under investigation.
Amid the confusion, a man in a camouflage T-shirt briefly became one of the most sought individuals in the United States.
Late Thursday, the Dallas Police Department sparked a manhunt for Mark Hughes though a Twitter post, writing, “This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him!”
Hughes was openly armed, though footage of the march before the snipers began firing shows him walking without incident among protesters. A woman who was recording the protest, Shantay Johnson, told the Dallas Morning News he had given her a high-five.
“He just gave me a high-five and smiled and left, that’s all,” she said to the Dallas Morning News. “I didn’t see no gun.”
He had displayed the rifle at the march in Dallas because, as an attorney would later say on his behalf, Hughes is a staunch believer in Second Amendment rights. His brother, a social activist and Black Lives Matter protest organizer, had planned to give a speech, according to Hughes’ Instagram account.
Shortly after the first shots rang out, his brother, Cory Hughes, approached police to see if he could assist them. Upon receiving a phone call he was a person of interest, Mark said he handed his rifle over to the police, who questioned him and then released him. A Facebook video shows Mark unslinging his gun and giving it to officers, encouraged by his brother. Texas permits open carry of long guns like Hughes’ rifle.
While the photo of Mark spread through the internet, the pair was “laughing and talking” with police, Cory Hughes told a CBS reporter. But the mood took a turn when Mark was brought to an interrogation room. The Dallas Police Department later clarified that Hughes was a “person of interest,” who had turned himself in. As such he was held for 30 minutes, the Hughes brothers allege, until his release around 1 a.m.
While Hughes was being held, he said that police questioned him about why he wanted to shoot cops. After his release, Hughes told CBS 11 that the police said witnesses saw Hughes firing the rifle. That “is a lie,” Hughes said. “I mean at the end of the day, the system is trying to get me.” Cory Hughes said the police confiscated Mark’s clothes and gun.
During a televised press conference early Friday, lawyers for the Hughes brothers said Mark was carrying his gun legally, though may be apprehensive about doing so in the future. They argued the police department’s tweet, and its subsequent spread, sowed confusion and put their lives at risk.
“They have received thousands of death threats already,” said attorney Corwyn Davis during the conference. “Unfortunately, there was a lot of negligence with that picture.” Davis said it was also unclear when or if the Hughes brothers were read their Miranda rights at the police station.
The incident has been likened to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, in which social media also fingered the wrong suspect.
After a classmate of Brown University student Sunil Tripathi saw a police photo of a bombing suspect, she tweeted that it resembled Tripathi, who had been missing for weeks. That message snowballed into a digital search on Reddit and other social media sites. From there, it was picked up by reporters from mainstream media outlets.
The Tripathis were inundated with threats. “This is not just one or two comments that would make Mom cry,” Ravi Tripathi told NPR in 2016. “It almost felt like a case study in mob mentality, in virtual mob mentality.” Sunil did not commit the crime. Though his body was found after the bombing, his suicide, Sunil’s family said, had occurred a month before the attack.
The Hughes, too, have been overwhelmed with menacing messages. When asked by a reporter for Dallas’ CBS 11 if he was concerned about his safety, he responded, “Absolutely.” The world has seen Mark’s photo, Cory Hughes said, and his brother has “already been indicted.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ben Guarino