'Hunting for a female:' Milwaukee man accused of fatally shooting woman walking near 27th and Auer

Kendell Towns

Homicide charges were filed Saturday, Aug. 29 in connection with a fatal shooting that happened near 27th Street and Auer Street on Thursday morning, Aug. 20. According to prosecutors, some of the events preceding the gunfire were captured by multiple surveillance cameras and showed the suspects following the victim.

Kendell Towns, 26,  faces one count of first-degree reckless homicide, as party to a crime, use of a dangerous weapon and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon for the Aug. 20 shooting death of Rena Gurley, 30, who died at the scene of the shooting near 27th and Auer.

Fatal shooting near 27th and Auer on Aug. 20

Prosecutors said a ShotSpotter alert noted five gunshots fired just before 5 a.m. Five .40 caliber cartridges were found near the victim, who suffered 11 gunshot wounds caused by four different gunshots, an autopsy revealed.

According to witnesses, the victim had gone out that night and spent time in a house near 25th and Chambers. She was eventually caught on camera walking in the area, where prosecutors said the suspect vehicle was also caught on camera "suddenly swerving as though attempting to cut off or stop this female." A criminal complaint said the occupant(s) of that vehicle interacted with the woman before the vehicle continued on, driving in a very small area, "appearing to look for something or someone." 

The complaint noted the occupant(s) of the vehicle appeared "to be hunting for an African American female" seen walking in the area.

Near 27th and Auer, the complaint said the vehicle pulled over in a manner that was "consistent with the suspect having found who they were searching for." Gurley was standing on the corner, and cameras captured her looking toward the vehicle before crossing the street. Meanwhile, the complaint said cameras captured two African American males with long dreads exiting the vehicle and walking toward the woman. 

Prosecutors said a firearm was seen in the front shorts pocket of one of the two men, later identified as Towns.

The complaint said around 5 a.m., the time when ShotSpotter indicated the shots were fired in this case, the video shows two people running from the scene of the homicide, one of them wearing jean shorts seen in surveillance video with color. The video eventually shows two people entering a waiting vehicle, consistent with there having been a third person driving that vehicle.

Fatal shooting near 27th and Auer on Aug. 20

The driver of that vehicle eventually pulled over near the homicide scene, the video shows, "as though checking to make sure the victim is dead" before pulling off at a high rate of speed.

A license plate reader on a nearby pole camera captured the license plate number, and the complaint said investigators learned the vehicle was registered to the girlfriend of Towns.

Meanwhile, further investigation revealed the casings from the homicide at 27th and Auer were from the same firearm from which three casings were fired earlier -- recovered from a vehicle that had stalled near Sherman and Center. In that incident, police said shots were fired near 21st and Nash. Reports from that incident showed Towns' girlfriend was in the vehicle, and witnesses said a single male left in another vehicle before police arrived.

Towns' girlfriend told investigators on the morning of the fatal shooting, he came home around 6:15 a.m., a little more than an hour after police said the homicide occurred, and he was wearing jean shorts. She admitted he was present during the shots fired incident near 21st and Nash, and that he drove her vehicle to where it stalled near Sherman and Center. She said he was not the person who fired the shots. 

Prosecutors said Towns' fingerprint was found in the vehicle involved in the fatal shooting near 27th and Auer, along with paperwork bearing his name and a handgun holster. Investigators located a .40 caliber magazine at his home on 44th Street. 

Investigators showed surveillance video from the morning of the homicide to Towns' mother, the complaint said, and she said Suspect 1 in the fatal shooting "could be consistent with her son," who was convicted in 2013 of possession of a firearm contrary to an injunction.

Towns made his initial appearance in court on Aug. 29, and cash bond was set at $150,000. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 8, online court records show.