COLUMBIA — In the past 27 days, there have been 11 verified instances of shots fired, seven of which Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said he believes are connected.
Only one person has been injured — in the gun battle after a party at downtown's Boone Tavern — so far. But at a news conference Monday afternoon at the department's headquarters, Burton expressed deep concern that someone will eventually die.
"Rarely is the intended target the one who pays the price," he said. "It's usually the mother or son or grandmother, or someone who knows no more than they see on the evening news."
Burton described the recent shooting incidents as unusual.
"It's unprecedented since the '90s that we've had so many (shots fired) in such a short period of time," he said.
The incidents have occurred between 2 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. Since many of the shots have been fired at times when residents are "moving about the city," the incidents are even more dangerous, Burton said.
So far, lack of witness cooperation has been a problem in making arrests, Burton said. Even victims aren't talking, and law enforcement can't fully understand each incident without information from witnesses, he said, adding that the lack of cooperation was probably part of the culture of those involved.
"They're just thugs," he said. "And when you engage in criminal activity ... then you act like a thug in your daily life."
The shots fired are believed to be gang-related, Capt. Brian Richenberger said. He would not disclose the names of any suspects or speculate about whether someone in particular is a target.
Law enforcement believes two rival groups might be feuding because the names of those involved continually appear as both victims and suspects, Burton said. If the incidents are part of an ongoing fight between two groups, the cause is still unclear.
"You've got to have a reason for shooting at each other," Burton said. "That's what doesn't make any sense."
Burton called for the community to respond with a unanimous message that acts of violence will not be tolerated.
"The public has to get fed up," he said. "What we don't want is for people to wait around until we've got two, three people that have been killed because of this idiocy."
Burton said he believes death will be the end result if the community does not come together to help the investigation. He urged the public to contact Crime Stoppers with anonymous tips if they have any information.
The police department is collaborating with the Boone County Sheriff's Department and will work with the Division of Probation and Parole and the Boone County Prosecutor's office, he said. The police department also plans to increase patrols to counter the violence, but Burton would not divulge an exact number of officers on the case for the protection of the investigation.
"As far as (the individuals involved) are concerned, there's 200 (officers) out there," he said.
He emphasized that a small group of people is causing a lot of the problems.
"To them, it's a game," he said. "It's a very dangerous game."
Those with any information about the incidents can contact Crime Stoppers online or at 875-8477.