Chattanooga: 9 shot on Christmas Eve outside Club Fathom

Chattanooga: 9 shot on Christmas Eve outside Club Fathom

December 26th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy and Naomi Jagoda in News

Investigators William Salyers and Heather Williams collect a bullet casing on Sunday as evidence from a shooting in a parking lot at the corner of 4th and Cherry Streets in downtown Chattanooga. The shooting happened around midnight on Christmas Eve leaving nine people wounded.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

The Christmas Eve shootings that left nine people wounded took place outside a downtown Chattanooga church and teen club where multiple fights have occurred in recent years.

Chattanooga police said nine young people were shot when rival gang members began firing at each other in a crowd of about 400 teens leaving a Christmas Eve event at Club Fathom, 400 Cherry St.

One off-duty officer also fired shots after someone pointed a gun at him, police said.

Police believe the Club Fathom brawl led to at least two other incidents, including another shooting near College Hill Courts.

A sign on the window of Mosaic Church, 412 Market St., advertised a candlelight Christmas Eve service from midnight to 1 a.m. The Club Fathom event was billed online as a party, where no ID was required. One advertisement featured a busty woman in red lingerie and a Santa hat.

Club Fathom is listed as a teen-centered outreach ministry of Mosaic Church on the Mosaic. They share the same building. Mosaic Church pastor Tim Reid could not be reached for comment Sunday. A sign on the Cherry Street entrance advertises River City Church, whose pastor is listed on that website as Martin Scott.

Five juveniles and four adults were shot in the melee. One adult and two juveniles were hospitalized with injuries not believed to be life-threatening, Chattanooga Police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said.

She said while officers were trying to identify the shooters, one person pointed his gun at Officer Jacques Weary, who had been moonlighting at the club for the event.

Officer Weary wasn't injured, and the suspect escaped, Jerri Weary said. She said Jacques Weary is her former husband.

A man walks past Mosaic Church, which doubles as Club Fathom, on Christmas Day in downtown Chattanooga. Late Saturday night, violence erupted in a crowd of people leaving the venue and nine people were shot, none fatally.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

Jacques Weary was put on administrative leave, as is standard for an officer-involved shooting. The internal affairs division will conduct a parallel investigation with the major crimes division to examine the officer's shooting, Jerri Weary said.

Shortly after the shootings at Cherry Street, police were called by homeowners at 2505 Oak St. near Parkridge Medical Center.

Homeowners told police that Club Fathom shooting suspects were in front of their house, threatening to "shoot it up," Jerri Weary said. She said no suspects were at the scene when police arrived.

But a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous said he saw officers detain several men. He said he saw police draw handguns and shotguns in the front yard of the home. Afterward, he said, police had two men, wearing skullcaps, bent over the hood of his car and had guns drawn at another man in a nearby white car.

"It was a lot of yelling," the man said. "They told me to get back in the house. I couldn't figure out what was going on."

The lights were off Sunday evening at 2505 Oak St. A man answered the door, but said the residents were not home.

Another man, 18-year-old Thomas Heffner, was shot in the hand early Sunday near College Hill Courts, a Chattanooga Housing Authority public housing project. His mother, who didn't share her name, said Heffner had been at Fathom earlier in the night. He was shot outside her home before being treated on scene by paramedics.

She said a friend earlier warned him about people in a black Chevy car with tinted windows. Police said Heffner's attacker stepped from the rear of such a vehicle and began firing.

Weary said Heffner and other witnesses weren't able to provide any information about the attacker.

A history of trouble

Club Fathom has had a history of trouble near its downtown location. Affiliated with Mosaic Church, the Market Street building also has a sign for River City Church.

On July 30, 2006, three stabbings took place in a nearby parking lot after about 500 people were thrown out of Club Fathom and gathered nearby.

Police told the Times Free Press that patrons reported more than a dozen misdemeanor and felony assaults in a five-month period that year.

And in June and July of 2009, shootings occurred in parking lots near the club, though police told the Times Free Press at the time that the club couldn't be blamed for them.

Mayor Ron Littlefield intervened at the time, and Reid, the pastor, temporarily stopped youth weekend night activities that summer.

Kim White, chief executive officer of the downtown development group RiverCity Co., said Club Fathom is one of a few problem bars, restaurants and establishments that the city should declare a nuisance and close.

"It's unfortunate that police ... have to use their resources like that on Christmas Eve," White said.