As the streets outside his home echoed with pops, Darryl Steplight thought it was fireworks on the eve of the Fourth of July. He quickly learned otherwise. A man in body armor, and carrying an AR-15-style rifle, opened fire at random in the neighborhood, killing five and wounding two, including a 2-year-old.

The man who was arrested and charged with carrying out the rampage was Kimbrady Carriker, who Mr Steplight met just last week.

The encounter was unremarkable, Mr. Steplight said, except for one curious detail: Mr. Carriker, who wore a green military-style vest, introduced himself as a “town guard.”

On Wednesday, two days after the mass shooting in southwest Philadelphia, the city tried to understand what caused such an inexplicable explosion of violence. In the morning, Mr Carriker, 40, was charged, appearing by video in a white jumpsuit and offering terse answers as a magistrate read out the charges, including murder, assault and reckless endangerment. He was ordered held without bond.

At a press conference in the afternoon, prosecutors said people who lived with Mr. Carriker told investigators that he had “exhibited abnormal behavior” and had become “increasingly agitated” over the past few days, even wearing his bulletproof vest around the house. . . A search of his home, said Robert Wainwright, an assistant prosecutor, turned up a will that Mr. Carriker had written, dated June 23. Mr Wainwright did not say what was in the will.

The authorities said that when Mr. Carriker was arrested he had an AR-15-style rifle and a so-called ghost gun, made of untraceable parts, although investigators had yet to determine how he obtained the guns.

Prosecutors said the ghost gun was not fired during the shooting, and that a handgun and ammunition were found during the search of Mr. Carriker’s home. Mr. Carriker was not licensed to own firearms, prosecutors said.

Mr Wainwright said at least one of the seven people who shared a house with Mr Carriker recognized he was becoming more anxious. But another prosecutor, Joanne Pescatore, said that “their way of dealing with it was just to avoid it and not stop him.”

Pennsylvania does not have a “red flag” law that allows families or law enforcement to seek a court order temporarily seizing guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. But officials urged people to report disturbing behavior anyway, suggesting that Mr. Carriker could have gotten help if the authorities had known about his behavior. After a 2004 misdemeanor conviction for carrying a firearm without a license, Mr. Carriker apparently spent his life largely off the radar of local law enforcement.

He was, however, a familiar figure to his neighbors on the block of two-story terraced houses where he lived. They remembered him as friendly and sometimes helpful. “He never gave us a problem, he was always a nice guy,” said Bernard Mason, 53, who lives across the street. “We’ve seen him a few times in full heels and a dress and thought nothing of it, that’s his business.”

Mr Carriker appeared in women’s clothing in a number of photos on his Facebook page, possibly contributing to confusion about his gender identity in the initial hours after his arrest. The district attorney’s office said Wednesday they have seen no information to suggest he considers himself anything but male.

It was on social media that Mr. Carriker’s state of mind was perhaps most visible to people outside his home. His Facebook page suggests libertarian-tinged politics, with memes disparaging President Biden along with posts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and thereby all support for unlimited gun rights.

In the days leading up to the mass shooting, his Facebook activity — posts about being haunted by evil spirits, along with articles about efforts to address gun violence in Philadelphia — may have reflected the agitation that prosecutors described.

“But we prayed to our God and sent a guard day and night to meet this threat,” read a post from last Saturday, two days before the shooting. It was followed by an excerpt from the book of Isaiah: “To save you, I will send an army against Babylon”, read one verse. “I will break down the gates of the city; and the cries of her people will become weeping.”

Jon Hurdle contributed reporting. Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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