In a city where murder occurs at the rate of about one every other day, the murders of six people, including two children, in a house at 722 Lester set a new standard for brutality.
Memphis police on Tuesday asked the news media and the community for help in solving one of the worst mass murders in Memphis history.
"There are people out there who have the information that we don't have," said Lieutenant Joe Scott.
Scott said the victims have not been positively identified, and police do not know if there was one killer or more than one, but they are "pretty confident" that the person left the house. The killings took place some time between Saturday evening and Monday at 6 p.m., when police were called to the house to check on the well-being of the occupants.
They found the bodies of two adult males, two adult females, and two male children. Three more children were alive but wounded, two of them critically. The children ranged in age from 18 months to 10 to 12 years. Scott would not say if the children who survived will be able to provide any information.
The house is a block north of Summer Avenue, just east of the railroad overpass. There is a motel two blocks away that is frequented by prostitutes. The crime scene was closed off with yellow tape Monday night as a steady rain fell on onlookers and television reporters.
"It's an area where there is some high traffic, so we're hopeful," Scott said.
Scott and detective and spokesperson Monique Martin apologized Tuesday for not being able to release any more information, but they said the investigation is at a sensitive stage. They would not confirm reports that some victims had been shot and some had been stabbed or shot and stabbed.
"We have not identified anyone positively," Scott said. "This is going to take some time. We need the community to help us. These are children who were brutally killed and injured."
There was no sign of a break-in. The last time anyone spoke to residents of the house was Saturday evening. Scott would not confirm reports of a ruckus and of neighbors reporting shooting near the house Saturday or Sunday.
"Every homicide is a tragedy," said Scott. "Children, that's our future. Let's not kill our children."
Two of the surviving children are in critical condition at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center. The other child's condition has been upgraded to serious.
The murders are getting national attention and are likely to put more pressure on the Memphis City Council to approve Mayor Willie Herenton's request for 500 more police officers.
The "Lester Street Massacre," as television reports were calling it, follows the recent murder of police lieutenant Ed Vidulich at his home in Frayser and a nonfatal shooting at Mitchell High School last month.
Police and sheriff's deputies last month solved a series of home break-ins in the suburbs.
As Tuesday's news conference was ending, reporters asked Martin about a shooting Monday night of a woman at her home near University and Jackson Avenue.
Hundreds of assaults, shootings, and even most murders each week make little if any news, but the neighbors and friends of the victims get the scoop and spread the word.
The overall effect is certain to heighten perceptions that crime is out of control and Memphis is in a downward spiral.
Where did it happen?
Was it random?
Could it happen at my house and my kid's school?
Could I be the next victim?
How can I make myself and my family safer?
Six murders in one house defies the journalistic shorthand of double, triple, and quadruple homicide. Now it's mass murder. And every day, every week, it seems that life gets a little less pleasant in the City of Good Abode.