EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth installment of a 10-part series on the top stories of 2012.
Police are at a standstill almost six months after six people were shot on Broad Street after July’s First Friday festival.
“We ran down all the leads and got nowhere,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Vinson.
Investigators believe confusion caused by the chaos at the scene made it difficult to find reliable witnesses who were not directly involved. Although the gun was found and processed, police have made no arrests.
Shortly after 11:30 p.m. on July 6, someone sprayed gunfire in the 900 block of Broad Street, hitting four females and two males, ages 14 to 22. All were treated at the Medical Hospital of Georgia Hospital and
Witness accounts varied, but investigators were led to believe that a group was walking toward another group when one person started running and shooting at the same time. Because most of the wounds were minor, authorities believe most of the bullets ricocheted before hitting the victims.
Investigators were also told that each group was wearing similar colors, which suggested gang activity. However, Broad Street is not a known gang territory, and even though the word “Kings” was heard by one of the victims, gang task supervisor Vinson said Kings were not a known gang in the area.
The morning after the shooting, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he thought First Friday had become dangerous and even hinted at ending it if a group did not take responsibility for the event.
“Without a doubt, we have a problem,” Strength said at the time, adding that he was not surprised the shooting happened because First Friday crowds had been getting rowdier.
However, about a week later, Strength had changed his tune. At a public forum, he said that downtown was safe and that the media were to blame for making it appear otherwise.
Immediately after the event, downtown business owners were split. The day after the shooting, a group of merchants and downtown residents called for ending the event. Others said they didn’t want to lose an event that brings money and residents to the area.
First Friday began in 1994 as an art gallery walk designed to draw families downtown and showcase businesses.
It was originally run by Main Street Augusta, which was funded by the Downtown Development Authority.
Main Street Augusta dissolved in 2006, and the DDA relinquished the festival for financial reasons.
The Greater Augusta Arts Council has been running the event on a very limited scale since 2007, Executive Director Brenda Durant said in July.
August’s First Friday was a show of muscle from the sheriff’s office. Deputies, narcotics officers, housing and crime suppression personnel walked Broad Street and were a nearly constant presence until well after midnight. A mobile command unit was set up on Broad and Sixth streets.
Since the shooting, no serious crime has happened during or after First Friday. The police presence has waned, but cruisers are still present and deputies are still walking the street.