Chattanooga Police Department investigators are sending off numerous casings to the lab and interviewing gunshot victims as they recover and hope to prevent any retaliation that may happen if a church youth group goes forward with a planned New Year's Eve party.
Early on Christmas, a fight that began inside a party after church services at Mosaic Church, 412 Market St., left nine people wounded when gunfire erupted within the block.
"Any bullets recovered from them [the victims], we're sending those to the lab. [Officer] Jacques [Weary] was involved in that shooting. We found no evidence that anybody was hit," said Chattanooga Police Assistant Chief Tim Carroll. "We want to make sure that any of these [people] that showed up at the hospitals isn't somebody he shot at. We'll be able to tell what caliber of bullets."
Two rival gangs clashed inside at the party, flashing gang signs, police said, and a few people were removed from inside.
"It's possible that they went outside and waited for them to come out and that's when all the shooting took place," Carroll said.
Weary, who was working off-duty security at the time, went after one of the gunmen, firing off several rounds with the 14-year-old suspect firing back.
Weary's gun also will be sent off to the lab testing.
The city is asking the court to shut down Mosaic, which features a youth outreach program, Club Fathom. As of Thursday, one of the nine people shot - a juvenile wounded in the pelvis - remained hospitalized.
"Two guys with fully loaded handguns, we could have had 30 people killed, very easily," said Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd.
Mosaic Church Pastor Tim Reid said while his church may take unconventional approaches, he tries to seek out youths who typically don't attend church to provide outreach. He sometimes does that by allowing secular groups to perform at events, he said.
Police said that over the years the establishment has been linked to violence in the downtown area including, shootings, stabbings and other assaults.
According to police, a child as young as 8 was dropped off at the Christmas event.
Weary, who remains on a seven-day leave, will return to work the start of the year.
It violated department rules for two off-duty officers to work the event when they lacked manpower, Dodd said.
"Internal affairs is looking into it," Dodd said. "Because once they got there, they should have realized there was more than 100 people than two officers can handle. They should have said, 'We're going to have to shut the place down, limit the occupancy or call in additional off-duty officers to work the place.'"
Dodd said rules call for one officer for every 50 attendees.
Of the nine people shot, two are listed as validated gang members. Thomas Armstrong, who was shot in one of his knees, was arrested in September on an aggravated assault charge. His case is still pending in court.
"If we go [today] and the judge says, 'No,' and 10 to 15 people are killed then we can say, 'We tried,'" Dodd said. "This isn't about a church. It's not about Tim Reid. It's about the location there. He's running a night-club mingled with a teen social club behind the curtain of a church. That gives him advantages because he's tax-exempt. None of our city ordinances, none of the beer board [regulations], none of the liquor laws, apply to him in that situation. That's the way he's skirting around the law."