JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police and community groups are pleading with Jacksonville gang members to simply stop the violence. This comes after a police announcement Friday that two fatal shootings in two nights were gang related.
The first was Wednesday night outside a Cassat Avenue McDonalds and the other was on Tyler Street in northwest Jacksonville where two women were killed.
The two shootings are gang related, police said.
The news that gangs are at the center of even more violence in northwest Jacksonville is frustrating to Donald Foy, head of Mad Dads, who has been fighting crime issues in the area for more than a decade.
"Please stop it. The communities have to get more involved. And the victims need to get more involved. They've got to stop saying, 'I don't know,' and they do know. You know this is a problem and it's a problem Mad Dads is tired of," Foy said.
JSO Director Tom Hackney said at least four of the victims in the two shootings are documented gang members.
"The culture of death and violence that these gang members live in gives me great concern and causes me to believe that their disregard for human life and their propensity toward violence and using guns is going to cause an innocent victim to lose their life," Hackney said.
He said such an outcome is unacceptable, and the JSO will be working to prevent it by putting more officers in the areas where the shootings happened and watching known gang members more closely.
"They need to know that we're coming after them," Hackney said. "When they break the law, we're going to be there. They need to look over their shoulders, because we're going to be there behind them. That's the way we're going to put an end to this cycle of violence is removing them from the equation."
Hackney said it's unclear if Thursday's shooting was in retaliation for the McDonald's shooting or if both shootings were in retaliation for previous killings this year.
Thursday's drive-by shooting left two women dead and one man injured.
Sherika Edwards, 25, and Shelmika Felton, 34, were killed, and a 25-year-old man drove himself to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The man's name has not been released, but Hackney said the man and Edwards are known members of the PYC gang. He said Felton was not a known gang member.
Police said the three were standing on Tyler Street near Windle Street when a dark-colored sedan rolled down the street, and someone inside opened fire on the three of them.
Edwards, a club promoter who went by the name Rek Beep Cho, died at the scene, and Felton died on the way to the hospital.
The night before, three men sitting in a BMW convertible were shot in the parking lot of the McDonald's at Cassat and Highway avenues, police said.
Officers found the driver, later identified as 27-year-old Paul Gillins, slumped over the steering wheel of the car, dead from a gunshot wound. Hackney said Gillins was a known member of the Cut Throat Committe gang. He had one previous arrest in 2005 for carrying a concealed weapon.
The two other victims, both 23 years old, survived and were taken to UF Health Jacksonville, one in critical condition and the other in stable condition. The survivors' names have not been released, but Hackney said one of them is a known member of the Doo Doo Creek gang.
Police are worried, because the surviving victims in the shooting at McDonalds Wednesday and the one in Newtown the next night are not talking to police. They suspect these people would like revenge, but Foy said there have been cases where gangs have simply stopped.
"In Omaha, Nebraska, they just stopped. Stopped going at each other which is the key here. They've got to stop going at each other. Whatever the problem is, we want them to understand that innocent people are being killed," Foy said.
To combat more potential violence, JSO will be adding gang patrols in the areas where the shootings happened. Hackney said those officers will be pulled from lower-crime areas.
Hackney said there are 47 documented gangs in Jacksonville, with 1,100 to 1,200 members. There are 1,603 sworn officers in Jacksonville.
The sheriff's office is also asking the public to step up and give them details of who's responsible. Crime Stoppers is an anonymous way you can give police details. Hackney wants people to understand that even if there's an arrest, they will never know you are the one who called police. You can't even be subpoenaed to be in court.
"I believe that with the information that we're getting and hope to continue to get, that we will continue to make strides in these cases," Hackney said.
The number for CrimeStoppers is 1-866-845-TIPS.
Working to stop the gang problem in Jacksonville
News4Jax also spoke to the founder of Project SOS, a local program that helps teens get out of gangs and helps teens stay on the right track.
For the past 22, years Project SOS has impacted 450,000 teenagers and helped them make healthy choices. The founder and CEO, Pam Mullarkey-Robbins, knows exactly what this type of crime does to someone involved.
"There is an adrenaline rush when you go out and shoot somebody. They're doing it for the adrenaline rush. They don't care about the person, because they don't care about themselves either. There's no future for them. 'So I'm going to be in the big house,' is what they tell me, "so why not?" Mullarkey-Robbins said.
In her program, Mullarkey-Robbins tries to outline ways to show teenagers a better way to live outside of being in a gang.
Project SOS first has the teens write down their gifts and talents along with a list of goals. They then pose the question, "What can you do with these talents to make a better life?"
These questions are designed to get teens thinking about jobs and to keep the positive thoughts flowing. They are taught six refusal skills that will help them stay on track, followed by six boundaries that will help them stay in line.
Project SOS also offers a healthy relationship department to help guide parents, because they believe the decision to partake in crime begins at home.
"I had a former gang member on my staff for two years, and he opened up my eyes to what the gangs are providing. They're providing a fellowship and discipline and regiment. The boys want that structure, but they're going in the wrong direction. So if we can change them around, then they'll want that for their job and for their future," Mullarkey-Robbins said.