Augusta officials blame First Friday shooting on gangs

Richmond County sheriff’s investigators believe a conflict between gangs led to the shooting that wounded six people after the July 6 First Friday festival downtown.

Sgt. Jason Vinson, who supervises the department’s gang investigators, said leads have steered them to at least one gang in the East Boundary area.

“Considering they were wearing similar colors and through witness testimony, it appears it was a conflict between gangs,” Vinson said, but he could not specify which gangs were involved.

Officers believe one shooter opened fire in a crowd outside Ruben’s Department Store in the 900 block of Broad Street around 11:30 p.m. No one has been arrested.

Officers found a Hi-Point 9 mm and about 10 shell casings at the scene. The gun was processed by the Crime Scene Unit last week in an effort to pull fingerprints and DNA evidence. It has been sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for ballistic testing, investigators said.

Officials confirmed there is gang activity in Augusta, but they said Broad Street is not a known gang territory and that gang violence typically doesn’t happen during a public event.

Vinson said gang members learn in prison how to run gangs. After being released on parole, they start running crime rings.

Devon Harris, the founder of Full Circle Refuge, which works with at-risk youth, said the mentality of gangs in Augusta has shifted. They used to be about territory, he said, but now they are about power and prestige.

Augusta has become a breeding ground for national gangs, Harris said, and known gangs are recruiting members as young as elementary school age.

“If we don’t rally around (the at-risk youth) and redirect them, we will have a problem,” Harris said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, things like First Friday will happen.”

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