The man jailed on suspicion of gunning down a pregnant woman and her two children in their St. Paul home Saturday was a jealous ex-boyfriend who displayed increasingly threatening behavior leading up to the killings, relatives said.
In a scene that Chief Todd Axtell described as "hellish," first responders on Saturday afternoon found D'Zondria Wallace, 30, and her 14-year-old daughter, La'Porsha, dead inside the apartment in the 700 block of Jessie Street in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Her son, Ja'Corbie, 11, died a few hours later at Regions Hospital. Wallace was two months pregnant.
On Sunday night, members of the St. Paul SWAT team arrested the 26-year-old suspect at an apartment complex less than 5 miles from the crime scene. He remained in the Ramsey County jail Monday, awaiting murder charges. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
Court records show the man served more than six years in a Texas prison following a 2012 aggravated robbery conviction. He was released in August 2019 and has no apparent criminal history in Minnesota — though it's unclear when he moved to the state.
Relatives have identified him as Wallace's ex-boyfriend, who fathered the child she was carrying at the time of her death. Wallace told her mother she'd broken it off with him several weeks ago, but relayed concerns about his behavior.
"She was fearing for her life," Mary Wallace said in a phone interview from her home in Memphis. "He was jealous."
The man allegedly broke into D'Zondria Wallace's fourplex last week, made threats and smashed her phone before leaving. Wallace told her mother she didn't report it because she was scared.
Relatives, already struggling to process the news of their deaths, also learned that police had been called to the home on a welfare check only an hour before the shooting. The officer was turned away after Wallace answered the door and assured him that she was all right.
It's still not clear which family member made that call.
A police spokesman said officers were called to the home at least one other time on a welfare check last week, but have no record of a burglary or break-in.
Wallace relocated to St. Paul from her hometown of Greenwood, Miss., about six months ago hoping to build a better life for her kids. Things were looking up: Wallace found work as a personal care attendant. La'Porsha was prepping for high school basketball tryouts — and Ja'Corbie loved challenging her to a game. The family had finally reunited in a new place on Jessie Street.
But the three lived there only a few months before tragedy struck.
Now, guilt is weighing heavy on loved ones.
"I always told her, as long as she's with me I would never let anything happen to her," cousin Jeanette Whitehall said of La'Porsha, who she raised in White Bear Lake for more than a year until Wallace could get settled in Minnesota last fall.
"I just felt I let her down in that way. ... If she was still here with me, would she be alive?"
Word of the suspect's arrest Sunday night sent a wave of relief among family and friends, allowing them to turn their attention to planning the funeral. A GoFundMe page has been launched to pay for funeral costs.
In an effort to assist law enforcement, Wallace's mother and sister had shared homemade "Wanted" posters on social media, with photos depicting distinctive tattoos on the suspect's face and neck. They labeled him a "killer" and encouraged followers to call 911 if spotted — even though police had not publicly identified a suspect or sanctioned the posts. (Facebook appears to have removed some.)
"I asked everyone for help," said Mary Wallace, who's flying to Minnesota this week in hopes of retrieving the bodies for a burial down South. "Now I'm not as afraid to come."
While sympathetic to the family's motivations, Sgt. Mike Ernster strongly advised against the practice of distributing unvetted information because it can jeopardize investigations and even implicate an innocent person.
"[A suspect] may think they're flying under the radar and, next thing you know, they see their face plastered everywhere," said Ernster, a department spokesman. "It puts them on the defense and can cause grave consequences for officers coming to find them ..."
Luckily, he said, Sunday night's SWAT operation resolved peacefully.
Bystander video of the raid captured on a cellphone appears to depict St. Paul officers in tactical gear restraining the suspect in flex-cuffs while in the stairwell of Bradley House Apartments at 2150 Wilson Ave.
"They got his ass," a woman can be heard saying in the footage obtained by the Star Tribune. "That's the damn devil. Ain't nothing but the damn devil."
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648