LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — The four-door sedan pulled up near an intersection in a central Florida city where people were walking, the tinted windows rolled down and people inside the vehicle began firing in all directions, injuring 11 men, including two critical, police officials said.
Just a minute earlier, a school bus had dropped off children in the Lakeland neighborhood Monday afternoon.
“It looked like one of those huge rolls of firecrackers tied together,” said neighborhood resident Tina Smith, who lives 50 feet (15 meters) from where the shootings took place. “But you knew they weren’t firecrackers.”
Authorities on Tuesday offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspects involved in the shooting in Lakeland, a city of 112,000 located halfway between Tampa and Orlando.
One of the seriously wounded men was shot in the stomach and the other was shot in the jaw. The others had non-life threatening injuries. The victims were men between the ages of 20 and 35, Lakeland Police Chief Sammy Taylor said at a news conference.
After the shots, the vehicle became detached. Detectives believed they found it in a Lakeland neighborhood Tuesday morning and planned to run lab tests to verify it was the vehicle involved in the shootings.
“I’ve been here 34 years and I can tell you I’ve never worked an event where so many people were shot at one time,” Taylor said. “We consider ourselves a small town … and when things like this happen, it feels like home, at least for me.”
Taylor said investigators believe the shooting was a targeted attack and was not random. Some of the shooting victims were cooperative, but others were not, detectives said.
Police said marijuana packaged for sale was found at the scene of the shooting, and investigators believe drug sales took place. Although the lot was known for drug dealing and other street crime, nothing ever happened on the scale of the shootings, Smith said.
“It’s definitely unexpected,” Smith said. “But I still feel safe. It wasn’t like the whole block was sprayed. They were coming with names on the bullets, obviously.”
Taylor described the neighborhood of clapboards and wood-frame bungalows with small yards as “challenging,” a place where many renters live, and said police have focused a lot of attention on the area in recent years. Many of the homes have barred windows, and several bullet holes could be seen Tuesday in the window of a nearby apartment building near the vacant lot where the shootings took place.
Miguel Joseph, a neighborhood resident, said drug dealing was common on the lot and he believed the suspects came from outside the neighborhood.
“That’s all they do every day,” Joseph said of selling drugs. “I hope they don’t come here again.”
The police chief said officers have tried to remove the “criminal element” from the neighborhood and have put “quite a few people in jail in that neighborhood,” but often ex-criminals return to drug dealing when they get out of jail.
“It’s a tough neighborhood and there are some challenges,” Taylor said. “We put a lot of resources and manpower into trying to fix this.”
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