Courtney Horn was sleeping soundly in her north Columbia home early Sunday when she awoke to a noise.
“I heard a loud commotion and the door opening, and I started yelling out, ‘Who is it? Who is it?,’” she said.
That’s when she heard the gunshot. She smelled gunpowder and thought one of her two children had shot off a firecracker, but when she went downstairs when she saw the door had been kicked in.
Her 5-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, Rocky, had apparently scared off the intruder; a gunshot in Horn’s floor and a footprint on her door were evidence of the crime. “I was freaked,” she said.
Responding to a recent surge of violence in Columbia, police have resorted to regular patrols in the First Ward to prevent shootings before they occur.
“Our responsibility is to try to stop these shootings before they happen, but there’s only so much we can do,” said Columbia police Capt. Brad Nelson. “We can’t stop it from happening, but we try the best we can.”
The patrols come after police have responded to at least 20 shootings since May 1. Police said seven of those shootings have been solved, and 10 suspects have been arrested. Two of the shootings, he said, were accidental.
Nelson cited rising temperatures and an increase in Columbia’s population as two possible contributing factors to the violence but acknowledged the department’s concern about the shootings.
At least four people have been shot in the past two months, but no one has been killed as a result of the shootings.
“We’ve been really fortunate we haven’t had a homicide with this spat of shootings,” Nelson said.
Nelson said during patrols, officers look for suspicious behavior that “may lead one to believe they’re engaging in criminal activity.
“We’ve had some retaliatory-type shootings, but, by and large, it’s been people shooting at each other,” he said.
University Hospital spokesman Jeff Hoelscher said that while hospital officials do not track statistics on patients, doctors have noticed a rise in gunshot wounds, car and boating accidents.
“They tend to happen in clusters, but, typically around this time, we do see an increase,” Hoelscher said. The hospital typically sees an increase in trauma patients during summer months, he added.
Tracy Edwards, coordinator of the First Ward Ambassadors, said small-time drug deals and fights over girls are contributing to the recent crime surge in the First Ward. He said his group, a coalition of black men who mentor youth in central Columbia, is also worried about the arrival of new residents from urban areas.
“They’ve brought the problem here,” Edwards said. “Shootings and drive-bys may happen in major cities, but it doesn’t happen here. Now, it’s been relocated from the major cities.”
Edwards said he supports the police department’s efforts to target potential suspects before they commit crimes.
“I know a 25-year-old guy who was pulled over the other night,” Edwards said. “Police told him that there had been some shootings, and he matched the description, age range. The guy had no problem with it. He was out at 2 a.m. They’re doing their job to keep the community safe.”