The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said it will beef up security at First Fridays and crack down on minors who are out after the city’s midnight curfew after six people were shot last week.
“We will be very proactive with curfew violations from here on out,” Capt. Scott Gay said. “We have cited people in the last few months. It is always a bigger problem in the summer.”
Around 11:30 p.m. Friday, witnesses saw two groups heading toward each other before shots rang out. Gay said they believe the incident was gang-related because the groups were wearing similar colors, an indicator of gang involvement in the past, although he said Broad Street is not a gang’s current territory.
Investigators have developed several leads in the case and believe one person was responsible for the shooting. At this point they have been unable to identify any gangs in the area that refer to themselves as “Kings,” which one victim, 14-year-old Brittany Moore, said she heard someone say.
“It terrifies me that someone would shoot into a crowd of people,” Gay said. “We will make an arrest. It’s just a matter of when.”
Police recovered a Hi-Point 9 mm and about 10 shell casings from the scene. The gun is being processed by the Crime Scene Unit. Investigator Tom Johnson said the sheriff’s office will pull prints from the gun this week and send it to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for ballistic testing.
Of the six people shot Friday night, three were under 18.
Jenea Simmons, 17, was downtown for her first First Friday when she was shot in the foot. She said she did not see a crowd or the shooter. When the crowd started to scatter after the gunshots, she realized she could not move her foot. When she looked down she saw a bleeding hole.
“That was my first and last First Friday,” she told a Chronicle reporter Sunday. Gay said the presence of juveniles downtown after First Friday is the root of the problem. He said vendors that are open late on Broad Street attract kids. Although the curfew does not start until midnight, if there is nothing to draw them downtown they will be less likely to hang out outside the bars.
The vendors tell law enforcement they have permission from businesses to set up shop. Because no one is taking responsibility for the event, police have no one to ask.
“First Friday needs to end,” Gay said. “If they end it, we can make sure no one is loitering. The vendors are the ones attracting kids. Without them, and with an increase in police presence, they will go somewhere else.”
Gay and Sheriff Ronnie Strength both said the curfew for youths age 17 and under, which was enacted in 1997, is very difficult to enforce because it requires extra manpower.
When a minor is picked up for a curfew violation, deputies have to wait with them until a parent picks them up, which can take hours.
“It’s very difficult (to enforce),” Strength said. “Parents don’t know where their kids are or what they’re doing. That’s the real problem.”