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St. Petersburg feud spiraled into mayhem

Tiffany Washington looks through a bullet hole at her home on 28th Avenue S in St. Petersburg. Because Washington’s home was shot up over the weekend, she now lives away from the house at night, staying with friends, her mother or at a hotel.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Tiffany Washington looks through a bullet hole at her home on 28th Avenue S in St. Petersburg. Because Washington’s home was shot up over the weekend, she now lives away from the house at night, staying with friends, her mother or at a hotel.

Tiffany Washington and her family had settled into their home on 28th Avenue S late Saturday when her daughter came over with a friend.

Moments later, a car drove up, and someone opened fire.

As bullets whizzed through the house, Washington and her children scrambled into the laundry room for shelter.

No one was injured, but the mother of seven said the incident demonstrated how feuds between rival groups of teenagers can spiral out of control.

"They're involving people not even involved," said Washington, 33. "It's taken a toll on me. What mother don't want to protect her children?"

Lenorak Keels, 17, the friend of Washington's daughter, was arrested Sunday on a charge of second-degree murder. Police say he confessed to shooting and killing Levaud Landers, 18, after an argument.

Police also say the drive-by shooting of Washington's house may have been retaliation for Landers' slaying. In the past, such shootings have ended with the deaths of bystanders unconnected to the arguments and feuds that prompted bullets to fly in the first place.

City Council member Wengay Newton said he became aware of tension in the neighborhoods months ago after some residents alerted him to problems in Childs Park.

He believes a team approach that would include faith-based groups, law enforcement and parents is needed to solve the problem.

"The only answer is we've all got to live together and find a way to coexist," he said. "They've got to be other ways to conflict resolution without someone dying."

•••

Her son did it, she says.

Latanya Keels, 33, says her son pulled out a gun and fatally shot another teenager after an argument Saturday night.

But Keels' mother said the shooting was part of an ongoing dispute between two groups of teens that escalated after the slaying of Deandre "Squirrel" Brown, 16, who was shot last March a block away from Saturday's shooting.

"Since this boy got killed, they've been after my son every since," said the mother.

Complicating matters is her son's role as a witness in Brown's killing. Police say Lenorak was in the same car as the shooter at the time of the slaying and was being a cooperative witness in the case against the two men arrested in connection with Brown's killing.

Police acknowledge some antagonism between the Harbordale and Childs Park neighborhoods. After last year's killing, police spoke to neighborhood youths to quell tensions.

But while Latanya Keels says Saturday's shooting was a result of tensions between the neighborhoods, police say the latest slaying is not connected to that dispute or Brown's slaying.

Instead, police believe the shooting was sparked by a personal argument between Lenorak Keels and Landers that is connected to an ongoing feud between two separate groups of friends who aren't affiliated with specific neighborhoods.

Lenorak Keels hung out with one group and Deandre Brown and Landers hung out with the other one.

"There's just been a long-standing dispute" between those groups, police spokesman Bill Proffitt said.

Some details of the shooting are still unclear.

What is known is Levaud Landers was standing in front of 2411 Eighth St. S around 10 p.m. Saturday. Lenorak Keels rode by the area in a car driven by an 18-year-old friend, Latanya Keels said.

Lenorak Keels exchanged words with the teens standing at the corner and eventually fired a handgun. Landers was shot once in the head. He died Sunday at Bayfront Medical Center.

But the trouble didn't end there. After Keels went to the Washington home, a car drove up and bullets flew into a house filled with people who had nothing to do with Landers' death.

This time, no one was injured.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8828. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg feud spiraled into mayhem 03/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 9:33pm]
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