Authorities are still working to make an arrest in the shooting that wounded six people after First Friday festivities in downtown Augusta.
Richmond County sheriff’s deputies brought in people for questioning after the late-night shooting but haven’t charged anyone yet and believe the shooter is still on the loose. None of the victims appeared to have life-threatening wounds, Capt. Scott Gay said. The names of the victims have not been released.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he wants to meet with city officials first thing Monday to discuss the future of First Friday.
“Without a doubt we have a problem,” Strength said. He said he was not surprised the shooting happened because First Friday crowds have been getting more rowdy lately.
Officers believe a single shooter opened fire shortly after 11:30 p.m. in the 900 block of Broad Street. Deputies recovered a gun at the scene, Gay said.
Witnesses told authorities that one group was getting ready to approach another when the shooting began. Some of the victims appeared to be part of the opposite group, but others were bystanders. The young men who were wounded were wearing white T-shirts, but Gay said officers are unsure whether the shooting involved gangs.
“There’s a lot of finger-pointing, and some of the witnesses are not being cooperative,” Gay said.
Daniel Long, a witness to the shooting in front of Ruben’s Department Store at 914 Broad St., said he heard shots and saw at least four people on the ground, mostly with ankle or foot wounds. He said one person might have been hit in the thigh.
The store’s windows had two bullet holes in them.
One victim drove to Augusta State University, where he was picked up by police, deputies said.
First Friday began more than a decade ago as an arts promotion event, with art galleries staying open late, arts and crafts vendors selling their wares and music performed outdoors.
The sheriff said he thinks the problem is that no one is in charge of the event, so police have no one to rely on to help organize or know what is happening and where.
Gay said because there are no organizers, no deputies had special assignments for the event.
“What we have to do now is steal manpower from other parts of the county,” Strength said. “We had 20 or 22 deputies down there last night.”
Some Broad Street merchants on Saturday referenced another violent event almost 10 years ago that happened after First Friday.
In October 2002, at least three fights broke out that ended in damage to bars. Around midnight, a large group began to fight at Broad and 11th streets, leaving a cracked window at Louie J’s restaurant. A short time later, officers sprayed Mace to break up another fight in the 1100 block of Broad Street.
By 2 a.m., another fight had erupted outside the coffee bar Metro, where a man was thrown through a side window into the bar. At least 19 arrests were made for disorderly conduct.
The next day, Main Street Augusta member Brenda Durant said the organization, which was in charge of the event at that time, would enforce regulations of acoustic-only bands, vendor registration and a 5-10 p.m. festival time. Strength said then that he did not think First Friday should be associated with the violence that happened after the official event ended.
On Saturday, Strength said he will speak to city leaders about what action needs to be taken to make sure the event is safe, even if that means ending it completely.
He said he would be willing to work with an organizer to make sure people who are going to cause problems are “taken straight to jail” if the event were to continue.
“Whatever it takes to control First Friday, we will do,” he said.