published Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Then the killing began: Eyewitnesses describe events surrounding triple murder in Lookout Valley

  • photo
    Everett Morris holds a photo of his late son John Morris who was shot and killed along with two others Wednesday evening in Lookout Valley. Molly Jackson and her father Everett Morris were first on scene after hearing gunshots and discovering the bodies at the next-door neighbor's residence.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Brandon Jackson says he watched from the woods Wednesday night as a black Hyundai crept down Kellys Ferry Place. The car still rolling, a man hopped out of the back seat with a shotgun.

Seconds later, Jackson says, the vehicle halted and two more men emerged with guns.

The trio walked toward Lot No. 300, toward three men and a teenage boy sitting outside a motor home, a group that included Jackson's brother-in-law, 24-year-old Jon Morris.

Jackson bolted through the woods and up the street, to his Lookout Valley home.

He told his father-in-law, Everett Morris, that men were next door with weapons. In one of the bedrooms, meanwhile, Jackson's wife, Molly, was listening to country music and putting her 3-year-old son to bed when she heard "POP! POP! POP!"

"I thought it was fireworks," she would later say.

Soon, though, Brandon Jackson told Molly about the men, and the guns, and how those men and those guns appeared to be with her brother. Then, Brandon Jackson, Molly Jackson and Everett Morris heard screams.

"Please don't kill me!" one man yelled.

"Help!" said another.

The barrage of bullets continued.

Soon, the gunmen left, and Molly Jackson ran through the woods. She was headed for the motor home at 300 Kellys Ferry Place, but she heard more screams down the road. She thought they were coming from her brother.

When she reached the voice, though, she says she instead found one of Jon Morris' friends, 16-year-old Michael Callen, lying on his belly in the doorway of his own home on Kellys Ferry Road. He was bleeding.

Callen was the ambush's lone survivor. Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies say they found the three other men -- 29-year-old Caleb Boozer, 53-year-old John "Jake" Lang and Jon Morris -- dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

Authorities arrested a suspect, 19-year-old Derek Madison Morse, Thursday on charges of criminal homicide and attempted criminal homicide after Callen picked him out of a photo lineup. Morse remained in the Hamilton County Jail without bond Friday, and he is set to appear in Hamilton County Sessions Court on May 8.

Sheriff Jim Hammond said Friday that his investigators will make another arrest soon. Though Brandon Jackson said he saw three shooters, authorities were told there were two.

Callen said he had been attacked by a pair of men. Another witness said he saw two men fleeing, though he still heard gunshots, implying a third shooter was still out there, in the woods, hidden.

"We've already got one of them, and we know who the other one is," Hammond said Friday. "We'll run him to ground and possibly a third. This is just a mean group out there."

Nobody answered the door Friday afternoon when a reporter arrived at the homes of Boozer, Callen and Lang. But in their living room about 30 feet from the location of the killings, Jon Morris' relatives reflected on their sibling and son.

They said Morris couldn't work because he was disabled. At 5 feet, 8 inches and more than 300 pounds, Morris had legs that struggled to hold his weight. He also had a learning disability.

"He thought like a child," said Molly Jackson, 25. "I don't know what it was called. But he was considered disabled."

Morse and Morris both attended Lookout Valley High School, though Morris is five years older. His father, 63-year-old Everett Morris, said Morse hung around with some of the boys in the area from time to time. But Jon Morris' family said they didn't know what motivated Wednesday's shooting.

They said Boozer, Callen and Morris often spent their days together. They liked to talk about cars, and argue about cars, and play car-racing video games. They also liked to watch football and bet on the games. After one particular wager, Molly Jackson said, Morris celebrated victory by shaving off Callen's long, brown "Farrah Fawcett hair."

  • photo
    The scene of a triple slaying near the 300 block of Kellys Ferry Place in Lookout Valley.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

On Wednesday evening, the boys went over to Lang's lot to tinker with his truck. Morris had met Lang when he moved in earlier that week. The boys then stayed on the lot to shoot a BB gun.

That, his family says, is when the real weapons arrived.

"They came for a war," Brandon Jackson said.

"They took on boys with nothing but a [expletive deleted] BB gun," Everett Morris cut in, sitting shirtless in the living room. "They weren't bothering nobody."

As the two men talked, Molly Jackson reflected on what happened Wednesday night, after she found Callen alive. She said one of Callen's parents called 911, and then Jackson ran back to Lang's lot.

She found him in front of his beige Winnebago, seated in a chair.

"Hey," she says she called out to him. "Where's Jon?"

Lang didn't respond. She walked closer.

"Where's Jon?" she asked again.

Still Lang did not respond. So Jackson walked closer, about 10 feet away, five feet away, three feet away. Finally, she leaned in toward his face and saw a bullet hole, ripped inches above Lang's left ear.

After deputies responded, she left the scene, still wondering where her brother was, and if he had escaped. As she walked back toward her own home, she looked back one more time.

Through the woods, she saw Lang's motor home. This time, toward the back of the Winnebago, she saw what looked like a body, and blood. She looked closer, toward the body's feet.

She saw red, white and black sneakers -- AND1 brand sneakers. The kind she bought last month for her brother.

Staff writer Beth Burger contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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