By Dan Scanlan / GateHouse Media
JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said he’s adding manpower to this weekend’s Florida-Georgia football classic following the shooting Sunday of six people on a sidewalk about a half mile from TIAA Bank Field just before the Jaguars game against the Houston Texans kicked off.
Police said Sunday they believed the shootings, which left three people with life-threatening wounds, were gang-related. Also over the weekend, a man was found shot to death at a Mandarin apartment complex and a teenage boy was shot and killed on the city’s Northwest side.
The weekend was the city’s most violent since late August, when two were killed and a dozen injured during a Madden NFL video game tournament at The Jacksonville Landing and one teen died and two were injured in a shooting following a Raines High School football game.
“More than 600 police will be assigned on game day to secure not only the venue, but the larger footprint of downtown and into the surrounding neighborhoods including those on the other side of the river,” Sheriff Mike Williams’ statement reads in part. “We will have special resources staged and ready for rapid deployment if needed. Additionally, we are bringing in additional lighting systems to set up along the main thoroughfares.”
Sunday service just ended at the Act of the Apostolic Bibleway Church on Pippin Street when gunshots began popping just a few hundred feet west of the sanctuary doors on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.
A member there for 50 years, church administrative assistant Barbara Moore said the congregation stayed put until the shooting ended, then looked outside to see some of the injured people lying in front of the coin laundry at the corner. “We saw all the police cars and fire trucks, and we left at the same time,” she said.
The shooting was in an area where hundreds of football fans park before a home game along the boulevard, side streets and empty lots where stores and homes used to be. And it was a half-hour before the Jaguars game started, so some fans were still walking to the stadium or tailgating nearby. After the game, police offered escorts to people returning to their cars not far from the crime scene.
Moore said major crime hasn’t been a problem in her Eastside community.
The Sheriff’s Office’s crime tracking site at crimemapping.com/map/fl/jacksonville indicates 54 assaults, batteries, strong-arm robberies, aggravated assaults and aggravated batteries have occurred within a half-mile area around the shooting site in the past six months. A homicide was also reported July 21 in the 1000 block of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard, plus three shooting incidents in that half-mile zone during that same time.
“It’s quiet. We don’t have any problems in this area,” Moore said. “It’s scary. It’s very scary because the children could have been out here playing or going to get in the cars.”
A neighbor walking out of the food mart Monday across from the shooting scene, now decorated with flowers, said he only had been living in the neighborhood a week when he heard Sunday’s shots. The man said he just moved here from Cleveland, his girlfriend here assuring him it was “pretty safe.”
In fact, he was just heading to the store at 12:30 p.m. Sunday when his stepson stopped him with a question just before shots rang out less than a block away.
“I looked and saw the people congregating and I was like, ‘Wow, not just when I moved here,’ ” he said. “Then, I saw people laid out and, man, it was pretty nerve-wracking. … I hope they solve it.”
The police provided no new information Monday on the shooting Monday.
The food mart was busy Monday afternoon, but the laundry and barber shop on opposite corners were closed and quiet as an “Open” sign flashed at The Avenue Grill a half-block closer to the stadium.
Police said Sunday’s gunmen were in a gray or silver four-door sedan, possibly a Nissan Altima or Maxima.
The victims are five men and a woman ranging from 20 to 70 who have not been identified officially. They were standing in front of the laundry when the gunmen shot at them, Sheriff’s Office Director Ron Lendvay said.
One was taken to a hospital by private car, while the other five were taken by city paramedics. Lendvay said three victims were critically injured.
Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who represents that area, said people are scared, frustrated and demanding more from city leaders and police to stop the violence in the city. He also pointed out that criminals seem not to be afraid of police anymore, since this shooting occurred just blocks from a football stadium with many officers working on and off-duty there.
Williams’ statement Monday said his department is “diligently investigating” the A. Philip Randolph Boulevard shooting, adding that he does “share the community’s frustration in the violence that is impacting our city.
“We will turn the tide on the violence, and we will do it sooner with the community’s help,” Williams said.
As for the rest of the weekend’s violence, one man was hit in the shoulder Saturday morning in a drive-by shooting on Suray Avenue after shots were traded with a passing car, police said.
Multiple shots were fired Sunday morning in a shopping center in the 13000 block of Beach Boulevard, multiple cars were hit but no one was injured, police said.
Also early Sunday, the Sheriff’s Office said officers found a dead man aged 20 to 40, shot multiple times in an apartment at 3200 Hartley Road, making him the city’s 99th homicide of the year.
Then just before sunset Sunday, a teenage boy was shot and killed in a home in the 2000 block of West 45th Street, it is unknown if the incident was accidental, police said.
Dan Scanlan writes for the Florida Times-Union.