On the morning of Sunday, Nov. 11, gunshots rang in the area of Elm Court N.E. between Market and High streets downtown, piercing the normally soft sound of light traffic and the chimes of church bells.
When the barrage ended, a 32-year-old man was dead and a 29-year-old man was injured.
Fifty-one days later, another shooting that spilled onto the streets, this one in the wee hours of New Year’s Day at the former Sunset Lounge, less than a block away from Elm Court N.E., killed a 25-year-old ringing in 2013.
These public shooting occurrences in the heart of Warren prompted the Tribune Chronicle to look at actual incidents of gunplay in Trumbull County in which police found tangible evidence that a weapon had been fired.
Hundreds of police reports and conversations with police chiefs about incidents between Nov. 11 – the day Marco Dukes was shot and killed – through Feb. 11, one-quarter of a year, revealed there were 19 reported incidents involving calls in which police found proof that a gun was fired.
Sixteen of those reports were in Warren. Seven of those reported in Warren happened on the city’s southeast side, and five of those happened in an area narrowly defined by South Street, Niles Road, Draper Street and Willard Avenue.
Once the most gun-violent area of the county was defined, the Tribune Chronicle then went through dozens of additional police reports document shots fired there since Feb. 11. They revealed an escalation of gunplay, three more incidents in which people were wounded every time.
City officials, religious leaders working to reduce gun-related crime in Warren, and residents reported that they frequently drop to their living room floors when they hear gunfire and avoid going outside in their neighborhoods after dark.
Neighbors in fear
The Rev. Calvin Evans, pastor at St. Paul Church of God in Christ on Colonial Avenue S.E. in that area, said parishioners were praying in the New Year around midnight New Year’s Eve when gunshots were heard outside, disrupting the service.
For the rest of the time, ”We prayed with one eye open,” Evans said.
Later in the day, around 3:30 p.m., multiple gunshots were fired at 2114 Colonial Ave. S.E., which is next door to Evans’ church. Church was not being held.
Three people were arrested on charges unrelated to the gunshots. Police found shell casings, bullets in a vehicle nearby and a path of blood in the snow, but no victim. They are still investigating.
Evans said he tries to be aware of the neighborhood to try to keep parishioners safe. Along those same lines, Evans said the church doors are locked when the offering is raised.
”Those who are in got to stay in,” Evans said.
Because of fear, while they were willing to talk about life in that gun-violent zone, residents asked that they remain anonymous out of concern for their safety.
”I stay in the home, I very seldom get out at night,” said a woman living in a neighborhood east of Niles Road S.E.
The 71-year-old said she tries to be inside her home at night and seldom ventures out past dusk. She says she avoids groups of teens and young adults walking in the street; she doesn’t honk her car horn or roll down her window to ask they move aside.
”I just try to avoid them because they are disrespectful,” she said.
An older husband and wife in the same neighborhood, said when they hear gunshots, they lie down on the floor in case a bullet comes through their home.
”It’s probably young people, because old folks know better than that,” the wife said.
The gunplay research does not include many reports of gunfire in which police were unable to find proof such as shell casings, blood, bullet holes or victims.
Nor does it include incidents of guns used, but not fired, in the commission of violent crimes or stabbings, such as the stabbing of two men, a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old, in the early hours of March 19 near the area of the Trumbull Homes apartment complex, which is south of Colonial Street S.E.
Or incidents elsewhere in Warren, such as:
The Feb. 22 abduction and robbery of two people living on Charles Avenue S.E. A man has been charged with barging into the home, abducting two family members at gunpoint, and forcing them to drive to an ATM near Tod Avenue N.W., where he forced the victim to withdraw money from a bank account. Another person was charged, accused of lying to police about information she had about the man.
The stabbing death of a 49-year-old Williamsburg Street N.W. man, who was found dead inside his home on March 25.
Then there were these shootings that were not inside the defined southeast area that happened recently:
On March 20, police found a 45-year-old Second Street S.W. man dead inside his home. He had been shot in the neck.
The shooting of a 35-year-old West Park Drive S.W. man on March 22. The man, who was shot in the pelvic area, is believed to have been shot at a home on Garden Street N.W.
Addressing the problem
The chairman of the Trumbull County Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance said the work the group of religious leaders is doing to reduce gun-related and other violence in Warren includes reaching out to teens and young adults to try and prevent their participation in negative activities.
”What we are trying to do is get to the basic root,” said the Rev. Phillip Shealey, pastor at Greater Apostolic Church on Warren’s northwest end. ”Number one, the whole poverty issues plays a lot into that. We need to try to educate people, get them employed, keep them busy so we can steer them away from a lot of those negative things going on.”
Already there are mentor groups in the Trumbull Homes and in other places, Shealey said. He would like to see that expanded to the schools and find college graduates of kids in college now to speak to the kids, too.
”We’re trying to tackle it from a number of points of views, trying to pool our resources,” Shealey said.
As for the problem, it’s as big as Mount Everest, Shealey said.
”The problem is the problem has festered for so long I think that people honestly ignored it for a long time or tried a lot of things that didn’t work,” Shealey said.
Warren police Chief Tim Bowers said he’s seen an escalation in the lack of respect, ”but the pendulum swings when it comes to violent crime.”
”I’ve seen it worse, I’ve seen it a lot better, too,” Bowers said.
Officers now are in total ”reaction mode” because of staffing, he said. Police need more proactive interaction with the public, but ”how do I do that when I’m just answering calls?” he said.
There have been times, usually to prevent retaliatory shootings, that police have intervened by meeting with family elders ”and tried to do interdiction because it has to end somewhere,” Bowers said.
Greg Bartholomew and Vince Flask are the councilmen who represent much of the southeast side of Warren where much of the gun-related violence happened during the more than five months looked at by the newspaper.
There were seven verifiable incidents of gunfire in the 4th Ward represented by Bartholomew and one in Flask’s 5th Ward from Nov. 11 to Feb. 11. From Feb. 11 to the present, another incident of gunfire occurred in the fourth ward and three more in the fifth.
”Number one is jobs,” said Flask when asked to try to explain the violence. ”You don’t seem to have the same type of issues, or at least in greater numbers when there is employment.”
Home ownership and a need for more police are other contributing factors, Flask said, but those can be traced back to people working. The city could have more officers if more people were working and generating tax dollars and full-time employment lends itself to owning a home, he said.
Bartholomew said part of the issue is the high number of rental properties in the area occupied by residents who are not longtime citizens of Warren including drug dealers, he speculated.
”Not everyone there is a transient, but these guys come in, set up shop, work the area until the heat gets too high and then they are gone,” Bartholomew said.
He said the ward was having similar trouble in the area of Vine Avenue and Washington Street, just north of the central downtown area, but fed up residents banded together to form the Central City Neighborhood Association to right the area.
There is a neighborhood group for the southeast side – the South East Side Community Association – and multiple attempts to speak with its chairman, Ali Bashir, were unsuccessful.
Bartholomew said he and Flask spoke last year about placing a moratorium on the new rental properties in the fourth and fifth wards, but the idea fell apart because legally, it could be ”extremely difficult to do.”
Eddie Colbert, who represents Warren’s 7th Ward on the city’s west side, said drugs are the ”root cause” of increased neighborhood crime.
”Homes are being broken into by people seeking money for drugs, houses are being stripped by people looking to turn in the scrap to buy drugs,” Colbert wrote in an email. ”When the police solve our more violent crimes we find out that the suspects are usually drug dealers.
”There is no ‘single’ answer to the this issue. It will take more than just more police on the streets to restore peace back to our city.”
There were two gunshot-related incidents in his ward over the study period.
Colbert said he would like to see the narcotics unit in the police department put back together, which would send a message to dealers and the community ”that we have identified the source and have taken tangible action to address” the matter.
He said he also would like to use the health and building departments to enforce current ordinances to cleanse the neighborhoods and declare a zero tolerance policy for areas identified as problems.