Machete killing unnerves neighbors of homeless camp where traffic flows ‘day and night’

A woman ran from the woods screaming Sunday evening.

Maryann McGriff is used to the commotion that comes with living across the street from a homeless camp, but she had no idea someone had just been killed in the woods off 26th Avenue, just north of downtown Gulfport and only a block west of busy U.S. 49.

“This is too much,” said McGriff, who has seen activity increase in the woods over the past couple of years. “Traffic day and night. Day and night.”

Police say they are searching for Eli Martinez Medina, 44, on a murder charge. They believe he may be with Leila Darlene Lizana, 42.

Chief Leonard Papania said Wednesday that Lizana is now wanted on an accessory to murder charge. He also said the incident started as a dispute over money.

Police believe Medina killed 39-year-old Frederick Plummer of Gulfport. An autopsy is being performed to determine Plummer’s cause of death, Chief Deputy Coroner Brian Switzer said.

His wounds were consistent with a machete attack. Police would not say whether the weapon has been located or provide other details related to the crime.

Plummer is the second person in under two years killed in one of the homeless camps scattered along the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks that run north-south through Gulfport. In July 2017, one homeless man is accused of beating another one to death with a lead pipe in the woods along the tracks.

Police Chief Leonard Papania said homelessness is a community issue, not something the police department can address alone. He said many of the chronic homeless need mental health and addiction services.

If a property owner wants to pursue trespassing charges, he said, the police will work with them. But the crime is a misdemeanor.

Billy Truax owns 8 acres in the area, including the house where McGriff lives. He has put up “no trespassing” signs and cleared brush on the wooded land across from McGriff’s house. But tents and mounds of trash are still visible from the road.

Truax lives in Nebraska but is about to visit Gulfport. He said he hopes to have the property cleared, leaving only protected trees.

“I’ve been tolerant, courteous and generous to those people, and their plight and their fate,” said Truax, who is originally from Gulfport.

“Apparently, at night time, there’s constant traffic in there . . . Who knows what’s going on? They won’t leave unless you just physically drag them out of there.”

Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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