Parents react to gunfire at youth football jamboree

Police say 500 players and spectators were at Sunday event when argument led to gunfire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Shots fired while youth football games were going on at a Mandarin park Sunday afternoon left parents upset and disappointed, wondering if they should take their children to any more games.

“I don’t want to put myself or my child or my parents in a situation where we can’t get out of something,” Sabrina Brown, who said it was her son’s first game. “My father said he heard five to six shots.”

Other parents are determined to move forward.

“If stop doing the things we enjoy doing, then we let the violence win,” Kathryn Palumbo said.

According to parents, no security was at Greeland Park when police said two men got into an argument in the parking lot about 4:30 p.m. and one of them pulled a gun out of a backpack and fired several shots. Detectives said more than 500 players and spectators were in attendance at the Mandarin Athletic Association football jamboree but no injuries were reported.

The JSO incident report said a witness described the gun as a short-barrel rifle. The report was forwarded to the gang unit.

“Everybody started screaming for everyone to get down, you know? Hide,” Palumbo said. “My son was in the bleachers. I pulled him out of the bleachers and laid on top of him as we were hearing the subsequent gunfire.”

According to parents, no security was there at the time.

“I don’t know if police could’ve prevented this from happening,” Palumbo said. “But I think if police had been there, it might’ve made them think twice before pulling out a gun during an argument.”

This was the second shooting in the last six months at a youth football game in Jacksonville. In October, police said a man was targeted, shot and killed at an Arlington Athletic Association event. The man’s 7-year-old son was injured.

“It’s cause for concern now (that) one person has been killed and, at the other event, gunfire after a contentious argument,” News4Jax crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson said. “Some type of security needs to be addressed, whether it be armed security guards at all of these events or police officers.”

Jefferson said parents need to reassure their children that events like this are typically safe with everyone there to have fun.

The jamboree was hosted by the Mandarin Athletic Association, but there is a different host for each game. Elite South Youth Football League organized the game where the argument and gunfire happened. That group has not responded to a request for comment.

Mandarin Athletic Association parents told News4Jax they will be meeting to decide if they will continue the youth football program or cancel it.

Mayor Lenny Curry issued the following statement on the incident at Greenland Park:

“While enforcement is an important part of any crime reduction effort, I know the importance of investing in prevention and intervention programs that address the causes of crime and prevent acts of violence from occurring in the first place. I’m fully committed to making Jacksonville a safer community in partnership with law enforcement and community organizations. That’s why my budget provides Sheriff Mike Williams with the tools, personnel, and resources his officers need to protect and serve. It’s also why we invest in tools, technologies, and strategies to help State Attorney Melissa Nelson and her team prosecute dangerous criminals and keep them off our streets. In addition, we are working to expand mentoring and trauma response for our children. By working with KHA we will continue to implement and refine alternatives to the old juvenile justice models and guide our young people to better opportunities and brighter futures.”

In Sunday’s case, the gunman was last seen wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and a red belt.

Anyone who knows anything about who the man might be is asked to call JSO at 904-630-0500 or contact CrimeStoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS (8477). Police are also asking anyone with pictures or video of the event to contact them immediately.

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