LAKELAND — Ten people were shot in the area just east of Massachusetts Avenue in midtown Lakeland on Monday afternoon, barely a minute after a school bus dropped children off on the street, Lakeland police said.
The shooting took place at 3:43 p.m. near Iowa Avenue and Plum Street, about a block east of Massachusetts Avenue and some 400 yards south of Memorial Boulevard.
Lakeland Police Chief Sammy Taylor told reporters at a 7 p.m. news conference that officers arrived on the scene one minute after a flurry of calls reporting gunfire in the neighborhood. The area is barely a quarter-mile to the north of the Lakeland police headquarters.
Taylor said when police arrived, they found three victims on the scene, and witnesses told them seven more had been rushed to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center via private cars. He said all the victims were adult males between the ages of 20 and 35. Two were in critical condition, he said. Of the critical victims, one was shot in the abdomen, the other in the area of the jaw.
The other eight suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, the chief said.
Taylor said the victims were lining Iowa Avenue, and the suspects, who appeared to be wearing masks or face coverings, were riding in a dark blue, four-door Nissan sedan with dark tinted windows. As the car rolled by, he said, shooters fired from all four windows. Then the car, with a paper temporary tag, sped off to the north and fled east on Memorial Boulevard. A Ring doorbell camera captured the shooting, he said, and also captured the bus dropping off children a minute before the chaos.
“We have reason to believe this was a targeted event, that it was not a random act,” Taylor said. “We did locate a quantity of marijuana at the scene, which would indicate that, obviously, there were some narcotics sales or sales of marijuana going on there at the time. Whether that’s significant or related to this, that’s unknown right now.”
The amount of marijuana found at the scene was more than 20 grams, a “felony amount,” Taylor said. He said it was found hidden at the scene.
“I’ve been here 34 years and I can tell you I have never worked an event where this many people were shot at one time, ever,” he said.
Taylor said the police department does not think there’s any reason for the public to be worried for their safety. And he said rumors that there was a second shooting scene were “incorrect.”
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“We have a very safe city — that’s why this is so, um, shocking and jarring, I guess, for me personally,” he said.
“Certainly we’re going to be on heightened alert for some sort of retaliatory act,” Taylor said, adding that they’ll have extra patrols out Monday night.
Taylor said the area has been known as a “challenged” neighborhood that the department has paid a lot of attention to in recent years. But he said it’s too early to say whether the shooting was gang-related.
He said no weapons were found at the scene, but a rifle was found in the car of one of the victims at the hospital. He said the police didn’t know whether anyone fired back at the car.
Taylor said police were still trying to determine how many rounds were fired, but they had identified at least two types of rounds, a .223 rifle round and a 9 mm handgun round.
Shortly after 6 p.m., police tape surrounded a vacant lot at the corner of Plum and Iowa and blocked Iowa Avenue from Plum Street to the gated Laurel Oaks apartment complex about 100 yards to the north. Three police vehicles blocked the southern end of the street and at least a half dozen more lined Iowa Avenue to the north.
On the blocked portion of the street, police investigators scanned the ground under a portable spotlight and marked what appeared to be shell casings in the street. A neighbor at Laurel Oaks, who identified himself only as Dex, talked to TV reporters, describing the sound — a steady “pop, pop, pop” in rapid succession, but not fast enough, he said, to be automatic weapons fire.
“I counted 13,” he said. “It sounded like a .45. ... It didn’t sound like an AK.
When asked what made him mad, he said, “These are babies. I lost a child. A bullet don’t have a name. Anybody could’ve been hit.”
Police helicopters with spotlights could be seen making sweeps over the city as of 8 p.m. Monday night looking for the suspects. Taylor expected the search to continue through the evening.