Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

As a community reels, St. Petersburg police find no pattern in string of fatal shootings

ST. PETERSBURG — Six weeks. Six shootings. Six people dead.

Beginning Nov. 10, six St. Petersburg boys and men, ranging from ages 16 to 25, have died after being shot.

Police said they don't see connections among the shootings. For several of the incidents, they're still trying to pin down clues and witnesses.

No pattern has emerged. The shootings happened in the dark of night and in the bright light of morning. They happened inside apartments and outside in alleyways.

Some of the shooters have been caught. Police are still searching for the others.

"It's a string," St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman Mike Puetz said. "Not a spree — they're not interconnected."

Spree or no spree, it's a grim toll that only recently has piled up. With the year coming to a close, the last two months have accounted for more than 50 percent of the fatal shootings in St. Petersburg this year — a total of 10 through Thursday.

The sudden cluster hasn't gone unnoticed. After Thursday morning's shooting, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman felt compelled to tweet that "overall crime/homicides down."

On Friday evening, Kriseman and about 150 community members, some holding hands with young children, marched through downtown St. Petersburg to protest the shootings.

"No more guns!" they chanted on their way down Central Avenue from the St. Petersburg Police Department.

"Guns are not only in the hands of people protecting their homes and their livelihoods," said the Rev. Kenny Irby of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church during the march. "They're in the hands of people who want to do harm."

They marched to 22nd Street S, near a mural that reads "Love your neighbor."

"It's not too late to stop the young people, to stop all people, from having guns to solve their problems and using guns to solve their problems," Kriseman told the crowd. "There are other ways. There are better ways. There are more peaceful ways."

But not necessarily plausible ways. Kriseman offered the crowd a weak prescription, encouraging them to write their state and national representatives to urge them to pass more stringent gun laws — a non-starter in the Republican-dominated chambers. He also told residents to speak up if they know of someone who committed a crime or who has a gun they shouldn't have.

"Because if you don't, it's going to happen again," Kriseman said, "and then another family is going to be mourning the loss of someone. And we've mourned enough."

Standing in the crowd with tears in her eyes was Christie Potts, whose 22-year-old son Joshua David Walsh was killed Nov. 10. She wore a T-shirt with his photo and the dates of his birth and death.

"It's every mother's worst nightmare," she said.

So why the uptick in shootings?

Puetz said there's not always an answer to those questions.

"All these situations appear to be isolated to a dispute, or issues between individuals, but don't appear to be connected based on the intelligence that we have now," Puetz said.

"It's just a fact that occasionally, you will see a series of homicides in a place in a short period of time," he said. "Then maybe, you see a gap of not that many."

This year, for instance, police went months without seeing a shooting homicide, Puetz said.

From January to early April, there were none.

From June to Aug. 1, not a one.

From Aug. 24 to Nov. 10, nada.

But on the morning of Nov. 10, Walsh was shot and killed by an 18-year-old man robbing his apartment.

His death marked the beginning of the current string.

That same night, 16-year-old Lennie Acostas was fatally shot at his home near Wildwood Park. He was transferred to All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine, but was pronounced dead there. Police determined Acostas had been targeted.

Just 19 days later, an 18-year-old man was shot and killed near a convenience store on 16th Street S. Police found the man, Jerrod Evans, lying by a dumpster. He'd been shot once in the upper body.

On Dec. 6, Aaron Davis, 25, was shot and killed in a courtyard at the Fountain Court Apartments. Police said he'd been arguing with another resident and was shot multiple times.

On Tuesday, Gabriel Wallace, 17, was shot once in the chest outside an apartment on 13th Avenue S. He had argued with another man, 18-year-old Abrion Witcher, who police believe shot and killed him.

Police are still trying to locate Witcher.

The latest happened Thursday around 1 a.m., when police heard gunshots near 16th Avenue S and found 17-year-old Tyler Lord on the ground in alley.

"I met Tyler in the seventh grade," 16-year-old Bailey Peterson said. The two often played basketball together.

"He was smart, he knew how to talk to people," Peterson said. "He made mistakes, like everyone does. He was athletic, too. He was supposed to go to (Peterson's high school) after Christmas break and hop on the basketball team with me."

Peterson said he'd just seen Lord a few days earlier.

"This stuff happens all the time here," he said. "But this is first time it was somebody close to me like that."

Police don't know why Lord was in the alley, or who shot him.

It's frustrating to see anyone killed, Jim Previtera, St. Petersburg's assistant police chief, said Thursday from behind police tape at the scene where Lord was killed.

But even more so, he said, when it's a kid who has just turned 17 lying on the ground, and you have to tell his father.

The spate of killings have kept detectives up around the clock, Previtera said.

"This is more of a marathon than it is a sprint," he said.

Tampa saw a similar shooting streak this year in March, when three boys died in three separate shootings.

Two of them died on March 14, another happened only eight days later.

A Tampa police news release said the deaths were due to increased illegal guns on the streets, drug activity and retaliation between groups.

Of Tampa Police Department's 31 homicides for 2015, 24 involved a firearm.

Andrea Davis, spokeswoman for the department, said those numbers may change as certain investigations progress.

Times photojournalist Lara Cerri contributed to this report. Contact Hanna Marcus at hmarcus@tampabay.com or (727)-893-8603. Follow @hannaemarcus.

As a community reels, St. Petersburg police find no pattern in string of fatal shootings 12/18/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 10:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Val Kilmer says he's canceling his Tampa Bay Comic Con appearance

    Blogs

    Val Kilmer and the Tampa Bay Comic Con announced today that the Batman, Tombstone and Willow star has canceled his appearance at the convention in Tampa this weekend. 

    Val Kilmer has canceled his appearance at Tampa Bay Comic Con.
  2. Brain study examined 111 former NFL players. Only one didn't have CTE.

    Storm

    Researchers studying the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy found that 99 percent of the brains donated by families of former NFL players showed signs of the neurodegenerative disease, according to a new study published Tuesday.

    In this 1974 file photo, Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler looks to pass. Research on the brains of 202 former football players has confirmed what many feared in life _ evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a devastating disease in nearly all the samples, from athletes in the NFL, college and even high school. Stabler is among the cases previously reported. (AP Photo/File)
  3. Two-vehicle collision leaves driver dead, another with serious injuries

    Accidents

    SAN ANTONIO — A two-vehicle collision Tuesday morning in Pasco County left one person dead and another with serious injuries.

  4. Bob Graham says Trump appears to be pushing Jeff Sessions aside to get at Robert Mueller

    Blogs

    WASHINGTON - President Trump's attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is "unseemly" and without precedent, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham said this morning. 

    Former Sen. Bob Graham on CNN
  5. Innovocative Theatre company debuts with workmanlike production of 'Proof'

    Stage

    TAMPA — A new company debuts with Proof, David Auburn's Pulitzer-winning play. Innovocative Theatre, founded by Dunedin native Staci Sabarsky, is currently running productions out of Stageworks Theatre space. Sabarsky also directs and performs in the show.

    Dennis Duggan plays Robert Marie-Claude Tremblay plays Catherine in Innovocative Theatre's first production, Proof, by David Auburn. Photo courtesy of Staci Sabarsky.