Most Gulfport slayings are not random killings

Man with gunshot wound in chest found in street in Gulfport

Gulfport Police Sgt. Damon McDaniel gives the information available involving a shooting near the intersection of 34th Avenue and Ganges Street in Gulfport on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, that left a man with at least one gunshot wound to his chest.
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Gulfport Police Sgt. Damon McDaniel gives the information available involving a shooting near the intersection of 34th Avenue and Ganges Street in Gulfport on Wednesday, June 8, 2016, that left a man with at least one gunshot wound to his chest.

GULFPORT -- Most of the city's slayings are not random killings, police say, but acts of violence involving people who knew each other.

That is true for at least five of the six homicides reported since January and six of the seven reported throughout 2015.

By this time last year, four killings had been reported as unjustifiable homicides.

The city's two latest slayings, between late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, brought the number of homicides to just one fewer than were reported in all of last year.

North Gulfport has been the scene of four of this year's slayings. One was in west Gulfport and one near downtown. Last year, homicides were spread throughout the city.

Police are at the moment unable to say if an acquaintance or a stranger shot Stanton Saunders, 21, on Wednesday. Investigators are still developing leads they hope will lead to the shooter, police Sgt. Damon McDaniel said.

But "overall, it's not like John Doe is shooting John Doe at the Wal-Mart," he said.

The city had a random killing last year. Raymond Howze III, 19, was shot in a store parking lot in west Gulfport. His killer also stole his car, police said.

What do trends show?

Five of the six killed so far this year were shot in the chest.

The sixth, Nigel Poole, 16, was shot several times in the head. A 15-year-old faces a murder charge in that killing in west Gulfport.

The others police believe to be the killers are ages 19 to 24. Most of the killings occurred during an argument, police said.

One involved a triple shooting during an armed robbery in North Gulfport. Mitchell Weathersby, 54, was fatally shot and his brother and another man were wounded.

North Gulfport shootings

Police Chief Leonard Papania said the increase in homicides concerns him.

When asked if the rise in North Gulfport indicates it is a crime-ridden area, Papania said he refuses to label North Gulfport "a bad neighborhood."

The violence "is not a citywide problem but is isolated in this same group of people who are not willing to give up their criminal lifestyles."

"Land mass is land mass," he said. "If you're bad people, it doesn't matter where you are or where you go. You're going to do your crime."

"The majority of people in North Gulfport are good, hardworking people and are having to tolerate it," he said of the killings and other crimes.

The Rev. Kimble Otis on Wednesday said his heart is breaking for the North Gulfport community. That's where Chavis Allen, 38, was shot outside his home on Dogwood Court on Tuesday night. Stanton Saunders, 21, was then gunned down nearby Wednesday and found dead on 34th Avenue at Ganges Street.

"I raised my children on Holly Circle," Otis said. "I love the people of this neighborhood."

Papania said it seems more people are willing to tell police what they've seen or heard after a crime, but some still don't want to give police an official statement.

"It's indicative of what I have talked about and talked about and talked about," the police chief said. "People engage in criminal misconduct and it typically escalates to crimes of violence."

All too often, he said, people just pull out a gun for whatever reason and shoot, and others are wounded or killed.

"It's a complex answer as to what causes this, but when you have people who engage in criminal activity, it's going to escalate and they're going to kill somebody or lose their own lives."

Police strategy

"We will bring policing where it needs to be," Papania said.

Part of police strategy is a campaign he launched more than a year ago. He calls it a plan to deter the criminal subculture -- those who he said live a lawless life with no regard for others. The plan includes arresting those with criminal lifestyles on smaller crimes before they move up to violent crimes.

"There's no great mystery" on who they are, he said. "Police in any law enforcement agency can sit down and tell you who their bad guys are."

People who like to steal guns; obtain guns illegally; buy or sell drugs; or steal property may not get away with it for long, especially if they are committing petty crimes that put them even closer to the police radar.

Residents have got to quit accepting this subculture, he said. "A lot of people are over it. So many are over it."

Papania has been urging residents to report criminal activity of any type and encouraging parents to be aware of what their teenagers and young adults are up to and the types of people they associate with.

"The most important thing I can ask people in our community now is to stand behind law enforcement and let us do our job."

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