People shelter in church after 6 shot in drive-by

Pastor's wife says people escaping gunfire sheltered in Eastside church

By Allyson Henning - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - People were filing out of In the Word International Church just after noon Sunday when gunfire rang out. Dozens of shots were fired from the passenger side of a car at people on the sidewalk across the street.

Within seconds, six people were hit by gunfire. Jacksonville police said three of those victims had critical injuries.

"It sounded like cannons being released. People were running and crying and screaming. Panic everywhere," said Karmen Williams, whose husband is pastor at the church. "It felt like there was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to hide."

Witnesses said there were people and children all around. In addition to those leaving church, other people were walking to the Jaguars game less than a half-mile away. Some took shelter inside the church.

"People were just running and hiding and they made a lot of the kids go into the bathroom and take cover on the floor," Williams said. "He started wrapping people and stopping blood from spraying everywhere and I started praying. I wanted to make sure that I prayed over everyone that was laying around."

A man working at a parking lot for Jaguars fans heard dozens of shots ring out. He then videotaped the chaotic aftermath the mass shooting on Jacksonville's Eastside.

His cellphone video shows police already at the scene and other first responders arriving to help the six people who were hit by gunfire outside a laundromat on A. Phillip Randolph Boulevard.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, told News4Jax it was difficult seeing innocent people getting hurt in a careless act of violence.

"I don’t see who would do it. Why would they do it?" he asked. "Whoever they are, they just don’t have no respect for life, period."

Police have no suspects in the drive-by shooting but did release a surveillance picture of a silver or gray four-door sedan, possibly a Nissan Altima or Maxima, that they believe the suspects were driving. 

Flowers were placed outside the laundromat Monday, honoring the victims who range in age from 20 to 70 years old. 

"Whoever that was had no remorse, no more respect for human life at all," Williams said.

People who live in the community, where a banner reads "Love, Peace and Heritage," said they are sick of the violence there and they hope city leaders will help make change a reality.

"This side of town needs help," Williams said. "Maybe now that it happened minutes away from the Jaguar stadium, maybe this will open the eyes of the city so something will eventually get done, like soon."

People who live in the community believe the change needs to start at the bottom, with youth programs for children.

Doctor Rudy Jamison, the assistant director of UNF's Center for Urban Education and Policy, grew up in the community. He was one of many people that spearheaded the Eastside Brotherhood Mural project.

Jamison believes the violent act Sunday afternoon stems partly from a lack of support for young people.

"It doesn't just occur because someone has a gun. We failed somebody along the way," Jamison said. "We need to take more preventive measures in terms of education, health care, poverty, public safety, economic mobility and employment, particularly in this neighborhood."

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's crime mapping tool shows that, over the past 90 days, there have been 144 violent crimes within a one-mile radius of Sunday's shooting. That includes four homicides, 26 robberies and 114 assaults.

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