TUPELO – What’s known so far provides little insight into why an Oklahoma man chose Tupelo as one of three crime locations spanning from Georgia to Arizona, killing one police officer and critically wounding another.
But the answer could be as simple and random as the city’s placement on a map.
Before Phoenix, Ariz., police shot and killed Oklahoma City resident Mario Edward Garnett, 40, after a bank robbery Saturday, he’d tried unsuccessfully to rob an Atlanta bank on Dec. 23, robbed a man at an ATM in the bank’s lobby, then traveled to Tupelo where he robbed a bank later the same day.
After the Tupelo robbery, Garnett ambushed Sgt. Gale Stauffer and patrol officer Joseph Maher as stalled traffic on South Gloster waited as a Crosstown train passed.
But why did Garnett select Tupelo for his crime?
The most direct driving route on the 850-mile trip from Oklahoma City to Atlanta passes through Tupelo along U.S. Highway 78.
Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre said FBI investigators spoke to a relative of Garnett’s in Oklahoma, who said Garnett had planned to travel to Atlanta to visit friends.
“Tupelo is just on that route from Oklahoma City to Atlanta,” Aguirre said. “That’s about the only way I could explain it.”
Garnett would likely have passed by Tupelo on his way to Atlanta and on a return trip to Oklahoma City, if he was headed there after the attempted bank robbery in Atlanta.
FBI investigators closed a Tupelo-based command center Sunday after news spread of Garnett’s death, ending the nationwide search to find the killer and robber.
Among connections between three robberies, authorities found key similarities and traced Garnett’s cellphone records that placed him in Atlanta and Tupelo during the times of robberies. The FBI investigation continues as law enforcement tries to tie up loose ends of the case.
Phoenix Police Department spokesman James Holmes said Monday no evidence has suggested a reason Garnett would have driven there, nearly 1,000 miles from his Oklahoma home.
“We have no idea why this man chose to come to our city to rob a bank,” Holmes said. “This guy is a mystery.”
Garnett’s history in the last four years shows a mentally unstable man with a fixation to harm President Barack Obama. In August 2010, Garnett, an Army veteran, posted threats on the White House website.
“I’m going to settle some scores on behalf of Israel and America’s victims and on behalf of those they continue to oppress,” he wrote, among other threatening posts. “I’ll kill president and farmer alike.”
Secret Service agents entered Garnett’s home and found an atlas with locations marked and numbered, along with computer files showing lists to purchase ammunition, guns and explosives.
After an eight-month prison sentence and three years of supervised release, Garnett returned to federal prison for two years on Oct. 3, 2011, for violating probation. He was released from a Fort Worth, Texas, federal prison on July 19, 2013. Good behavior allowed him to leave 70 days before his full sentence would have ended.
Six months later and days after his cross-country robberies, shootings and murder, authorities still can’t make sense of things.
“We can’t find a criminal record on him,” Holmes said of Garnett before his presidential threat. “I don’t think he ever broke the law before that.”