COLUMBIA — Investigators are struggling to gather evidence to arrest the people they “know” are responsible for more than a dozen shootings in Columbia over the past two months, a police spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, police have added patrols to two parts of town to try to prevent more violence.
In the most recent incident on Monday evening, someone fired a shot from a black vehicle that went through the windows of a truck parked at 505 Woodlawn Ave. The bullet was found lodged in a tree next door. No one was injured.
Police determined that the residents of the two homes were not involved in the shooting. Several individuals were on foot in the neighborhood, but none of them were on the scene when police arrived, said Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden, and police haven't been able to locate them.
Haden said witnesses’ descriptions of the black vehicle in the Woodlawn incident led police to think that the incident is related to the recent series of shootings. In later interviews, witnesses provided police with a name.
“We know the people who are involved,” Haden said. “Some of them have histories with one another. We believe that the information we’re getting is correct.”
The danger in the shootings lies in the reckless nature of the shooters’ behavior, Haden said, such as the shooting during the Boone County Fair on Friday that put a 19-year-old in the hospital after he was shot in the leg.
Police are also worried that the shooters might return to the street, she said.
“One of the things that we’re doing is adding additional police presence in the (Woodlawn) area to monitor the traffic and be a deterrent,” Haden said. “We’ve identified that as a location that we think we may have a repeat problem if we don’t step up.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, extra patrols were also added to Whitegate Drive, she said, though she would not say why. No shootings have occurred there.
Haden said although it's possible the shootings involve the gang Squad Up, the police don’t think everyone is part of a gang.
“Some of them probably are gang members, and some of them probably aren’t,” she said. “But (the shootings) are not random. We can tell the community that with certainty.”
Despite the department’s confidence that they’ve identified those responsible, an arrest does not appear to be imminent unless the police get more evidence.
“If a witness is not able to positively identify, or the victim isn’t willing to come forward, then the arrest can’t happen," Haden said. "It makes it much more difficult for us to gather the evidence necessary to develop probable cause."
The investigation into the Boone County Fair shooting, for instance, hit a roadblock when authorities ran into a "code of silence" among those involved, Major Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff's Department said Saturday.
"Even the victim didn't want to give his name to staff at the hospital," Reddin said.
The only two arrests made so far in this summer's string of shootings were in connection with the July 1 incident on the 500 block of Ash Street. Marquez Lawhorn, 31, was charged with first degree assault. Richard Dekruyff, 31, was charged with resisting arrest, marijuana possession, armed criminal action, shooting at firearm at a person, vehicle or building and first degree assault.
In that incident, Haden said, "We had someone directly involved who cooperated with us and gave us the probable cause needed to make arrests."
Witnesses are often unwilling to help because they’re afraid of retaliation, or they would rather settle the score themselves, she said.
“The victim or intended victim in any given shooting may turn around and be the suspect in the next shooting,” Haden said.
She said the department has yet to determine a motive for the shootings — whether they are the result of a new or old disagreement, drugs or feuding between families.
"We tend to see acts of violence occur over the same types of things: drugs, money and men and women or sex, however you want to define that — jealousy slash revenge," Haden said. "We're going to leave all those doors open to explore."
Anyone with any further information about the shootings should call CrimeStoppers at 875-8477.