The East Lake Courts area — and other Chattanooga neighborhoods — may explode in violence without more community involvement and law enforcement support, a resident said Thursday.
“Without outside help, we’re not gonna make it,” said Seprenia Moorer, who said she often patrols the East Lake Courts trying to keep the peace. “There are too many deaths out here.”
Staff Photo by Meghan Brown
Agents with the bomb and arson investigation section of the State Fire Marshall's Office investigate a potential vehicle arson on 27th Street on Thursday afternoon. The incident is being investigated in a possible connection to a stabbing early Thursday morning.
The city’s latest homicide took place early Thursday morning in East Lake when 22-year-old LaTony Johnson was stabbed in the chest during a fight at 2241 East 27th St., according to police. Mr. Johnson died during surgery at Erlanger hospital.
Police also are investigating whether a series of violent incidents that occurred Thursday after the stabbing — a house firebombing, shots fired at a car and a house, the burning of a car — are linked to Mr. Johnson’s death, the city’s ninth homicide of 2008, Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman Jerri Weary said.
Officers are searching for Courrie Long, 28, in connection with the death, Sgt. Weary said.
Police aren’t sure whether any of the incidents were gang-related, Sgt. Weary said, but they’re investigating the possibility.
“We don’t know who’s who and can’t say what group is taking action,” she said.
* Stabbing — 2241 East 27th St.
* Shots fired into house — East 27th Street
* Shots fired into car — East 34th Street
* House firebombed — 1602 E. 17th St.
* Car on fire — 2100 block of East 27th Street
The department’s crime suppression unit is helping piece together what — if any — gang affiliations existed among those involved in Thursday’s incidents, she said.
“We don’t want it to get out of control,” she said.
After the stabbing, which took place about 2:20 a.m. Thursday, Chattanooga police received reports of shots fired into a house on East 27th Street as well as shots fired into a car on East 34th Street, Sgt. Weary said. Police also helped investigate whether a car that caught fire in the 2100 block of East 27th Street was an incidence of arson, officials said.
In what police called the Highland Park area, officials investigated whether a duplex at 1602 E. 17th St. was firebombed shortly before 6:30 a.m., Sgt. Weary said.
Jocelyn Davenport, 38, who lived in the duplex, said she left her house about 6:20 a.m. to go to work and received a phone call 20 minutes later telling her that her house was on fire. She first thought her baseboard heaters caught fire, she said, but when she returned home and saw police, she knew that wasn’t the case.
She said someone poured gas across her back porch and door and threw multiple firebombs through her windows. Her 21-year-old son was not home at the time of the blaze, but she said she doesn’t think the incident had anything to do with him.
“My son (has had) his share of fights, but this — no,” she said, gesturing to the brick duplex with blackened windows and charred walls. “They made sure whatever they were trying to prove they got across to me.”
Wanda Vogt, a member of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, said 1602 E. 17th St. is not inside the association’s designated boundaries for Highland Park, which are from McCallie Avenue to Main Street and from Holtzclaw Avenue to Willow Street.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, the Chattanooga Fire Department and the Tennessee Bomb and Arson Section with the state fire marshal’s office assisted in the investigations.
TENSION RUNS HIGH
Stress and anxiety ran through the East Lake Courts housing development Thursday afternoon as people wandered the streets and sat on front porches, fanning themselves. Some residents said they had no doubt who was responsible for the violence and mayhem.
“(Tension is) very high today, because this is a situation where we’re not in control,” Ms. Moorer said. “We are dealing with a bad problem, and that’s a gang problem. We’ve got a bad fight out here.”
Officials last week said gang violence tends to rise during summer when more young people are out of school and in the streets. Gang shootings and retaliations often are related to a lack of respect shown for an individual or an entire gang, said Sgt. Todd Rovyal, head of the Chattanooga police crime suppression unit.
“The only way to retaliate against it is to go by and show that you will respect me and do something that’s completely over the top like a drive-by shooting or jump out and beat somebody,” Sgt. Royval said.
Gang violence isn’t limited to one neighborhood or one socioeconomic class, Sgt. Royval said.
“You can’t blame it on our poor parts of town, because it can be in any neighborhood,” he said.
Police still were searching Thursday afternoon for a motive in the fight that led to Mr. Johnson’s death. East Lake Courts residents said he did not live in the development.
Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in May 2007 and was placed on supervised probation, according to Hamilton County Criminal Court records.
Mr. Long pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing, domestic assault and simple possession of cocaine, among other charges, in Hamilton County Criminal Court in October 2007, court records show. He was placed on probation, according to records.
The homicide is the city’s ninth this year and first since April 29, when Rodney Lomenick died after being shot during an armed robbery at 1096 N. Hawthorne St.
The homicide total does not include the death of 15-year-old McCallie student Bobby Wayne Covert II, who died April 22 in his hometown of Lexington, Ky., after collapsing due to injuries sustained during a fight with another student.
His death had been ruled a homicide by the Commonwealth of Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office.