ALACHUA, Fla. – Police are searching for a gunman after five people, including a mother and her two young children, were shot Monday night in Alachua, a city about 20 miles northwest of Gainesville, the Alachua County Police Department said.
The shooting, which police believe was gang related, happened about 6:30 p.m. Monday on Northwest 156th Place near North Main Street and left at least one home shot up.
The Police Department said all five victims were transported to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville for treatment.
At a news conference Tuesday evening, police gave an update on the conditions of the victims, including a 19-year-old man who was in critical condition at last check.
Sgt. Jesse Sandusky said a 24-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter, who both suffered non-life-threatening injuries, had been released from the hospital, but the woman's 2-year-old son was still being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Sandusky said the fifth victim, an 18-year-old man, was also still receiving treatment at the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
Sandusky said Monday's shooting was retaliation for a deadly shooting Sunday afternoon at a park, and police believe a neighborhood gang was involved.
"We haven't had a lot coming from these particular neighborhood gangs other than drug investigations, drug-type cases," Sandusky said.
Investigators said they know what kind of gun was used, but they're not yet releasing that information.
"These type of major crimes, these type of violent crimes, we don’t see very often here. It’s rare that it happens here," Sandusky said. "However, it can happen anywhere at anytime so we always try to be prepared."
Although there is no apparent threat to the community, police said, Alachua residents can expect to see more officers patrolling neighborhoods and schools after the gang-related shooting.
From bullet holes in a blue house to shattered glass in the street and leftover police tape, the signs of a violent Monday evening were still visible on Tuesday.
A father who lives nearby told News4Jax he knows one of the victims, a young man who he described as being "like a son" to him.
"I'm happy it wasn't my child. But I'm depressed that it was a kid that he grew up with and that I look at like a son and the situation he's in right now," said the man, who wished to remain anonymous. "I really hope he pulls through and I'm praying for his family."
He said that the five people were gathered near the street corner when someone opened fire on them.
"It's sad because they're all young and then, for innocent kids, toddlers, to be getting hit, it doesn't make sense," the man said. "Could we please stop the violence? It's enough going on already."
Alachua County sheriff's deputies, High Springs police and the state attorney's office also responded to help with the investigation.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at 386-462-1396. To remain anonymous, call the Tip Line at 386-418-1597.
How common is it to find gangs in small towns?
The possibility of Monday night's shooting being gang related may come as a surprise to some because of the location, but News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said gang violence isn't exclusive to bigger, urban areas, but a problem in cities large and small.
"It really depends, sometimes, on the proximity of the city to major interstate highways where drugs are flowing through," said Smith, a former detective with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. "Along smaller cities, maybe along I-95 going up through New York, you might see gang activity."
A study by the National Gang Center shows that gang problems are seen more often in less-populated areas. Smith said members often get involved because the area is less crowded.
"There's always this sense of wanting to belong to something, not having very close family ties, the security that a gang will provide," Smith said.
With police believing the shooting in Alachua is linked to a homicide Sunday, Smith said that retaliation shootings are one of the biggest obstacles to combating gang violence in big cities or small towns.
"We see that happening quite often here in Jacksonville and that’s one of the toughest things for law enforcement to get a handle on is to stop the retaliation back and forth," Smith said.
News4Jax requested more information from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office about specific numbers of gangs and gang members in the area, but has not received any. Still, a deputy said, the conversation needs to take place.