PHOENIX (CN) – “We got him!” Arizona’s governor crowed Friday night after a 21-year-old Glendale man was arrested in connection with the freeway shootings that have terrorized Phoenix since August.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced the arrest on Twitter at around 7 p.m. Friday: “We got him! DPS SWAT team is in custody of the individual suspected of I-10 shootings. Apprehended moments ago.”
Leslie Merritt Jr., a landscaper, was arrested at a Wal-Mart in Glendale after police say he pawned a gun that matched four of the 11 shootings.
Despite a $50,000 reward for tips that led to the arrest of the shooter, Merritt was not arrested based on a tip.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety said the arrest was the result of law enforcement checking for any guns pawned at Mo Money Pawn in Phoenix that matched the type of firearm used in the shootings. The DPS said its crime lab tested the gun and found that the test-fired bullets matched bullet fragments from the shootings on Aug. 29 and Aug. 30.
Merritt’s bond was set at $1 million during an initial appearance Saturday morning. He was charged with drive-by shooting, criminal damage, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, endangerment, discharging a firearm in city limits, terrorism-intentional act and disorderly conduct.
“All I have to say is I’m the wrong guy,” Merritt said during the appearance. “I told the detective that my gun’s been in the pawn shop for the last two months.”
Merritt says he has two children and cannot afford the bond. A Facebook page appearing to belong to Merritt showed photos of two children, along with posts about the Second Amendment and conspiracy theories, before it was removed from the site.
“This piece of the pie has been solved,” DPS spokesman Bart Graves said at a news conference. “Copycats are possible; that’s why we will continue to investigate.”
Ducey thanked law enforcement for their work.
“This was no easy case, but our law enforcement officials worked night and day from the moment these shootings began to get to the bottom of it and protect Arizona citizens,” Ducey said in a statement.
The freeway shootings began on Aug. 29. Most took place near the West Valley and downtown Phoenix. Guns were used in eight of the 11 shootings, while the other three involved “projectiles.”
Three 18-year-old men were arrested Sept. 12 on charges of committing a series of copycat attacks in Queen Creek, and another man was detained and questioned in connection with the shootings but was released Friday.
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