Chattanooga neighborhood rattled by hail of gunfire, killing man and injuring four others

Chattanooga neighborhood rattled by hail of gunfire, killing man and injuring four others

October 25th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Tiffany McMath holds her 2-year-old son Kamari McMath who was one of five people shot on the 1900 block of Walker Street in East Chattanooga late Sunday evening. Kamari's back was grazed by a bullet.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

The skies were clear Monday morning on Walker Street as residents returned to their front porches after a hail of gunfire the night before sent them running for cover, leaving four wounded and one dead.

A small bunch of red, white and blue plastic flowers was stuck in the dirt near the curb marking the spot where 22-year-old VanDaryl "V" Rivers was shot in the head and fell to the ground.

He was pronounced dead at Erlanger hospital.

"He didn't even stay on this block. He came to tell us he just found out he was going to be a father," said Tamesa "PeeWee" Davenport, 27, of Chattanooga. "For that to happen to him, it was just sad."

Among those injured by bullets were 19-year-old JerMichael Smith, who was shot in the neck and listed in critical condition, 25-year-old Daniel Smiley, who was shot in the wrist, and a 17-year-old and 2-year-old who were both grazed by bullets.

The small brick homes spaced closely together made an easy target for the unidentified shooter, who was clad in all black and carrying an assault rifle, police said. Residents said they heard as many as 30 shots fired, striking people at a number of residences near the 1900 block of Walker Street at about 10 p.m. Sunday.

"[Rivers] was a good person, kind. He loved kids. He loved life. I heard the gunshots. It was quite a lot. It was, 'Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow,'" Davenport said, repeating the shot of gunfire over and over. "His last words were, 'It's going to be OK,' and he was smiling. To me, it was like he was seeing angels."

Police brought in several people for questioning but had made no arrests as of Monday afternoon. Investigators couldn't give a motive for the shooting, the 47th shooting incident for the city this year.

The city already has outpaced its number of homicides in 2010. Last year there were 20 homicides. Rivers' death marks the 23rd this year.

Remnants of crime scene tape remained near street signs and trash cans Monday morning. Rivers' blood still stained the curb.

"After [the gunman] shot, he ran south onto the next street, Jackson Street, and got into a small white vehicle and fled," Chattanooga Police Department Assistant Chief Tim Carroll said. "There may have other people in the car. We don't know."

Police received information that the shooting may have been in retaliation for an Oct. 15 shooting that injured two teens on Fagan Street. A 17-year-old was shot in the head in that incident and listed in critical condition. While investigators have leads, no arrests have been made in the Fagan Street shooting, Carroll said.

"We've heard rumors, and we're getting street talk that may be the case, but we haven't confirmed it," Carroll said.

The victims in Sunday night's shooting had no violent criminal history, according to Hamilton County court records.

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"They were minding their own business. None of them had weapons on them. There were no drugs on their clothing when they got to the hospital," Carroll said. "We don't know why we have five people shot."

Rivers was shot two doors down from where a 2-year-old toddler was struck by another stray round as his cousins ran for cover.

His aunt, nearly nine months pregnant, quickly realizing he wasn't among the other children, opened the door and snatched him inside.

His mother, Tiffany McMath, of Atlanta, said that in the chaos after the gunfire it took a few seconds to realize her son was grazed by a bullet.

"When we went back in there, he was the only person in there crying," she said. "When I began checking him, I seen blood. I couldn't handle it. I asked my mom to see if he had been shot."

McMath held the 2-year-old in her arms on the porch Monday morning. He leaned into her, resting his head on her shoulder as she lifted the back of his shirt, exposing gauze where blood had seeped from the wound.

"I thank God he's still alive. I'm still shook up from it. Every time I see [the wound], it brings tears to my eyes," she said.

The wound was too deep and wide for doctors to close with stitches, she said.

"When me and my sister ran back outside to find my baby, I don't know why I looked up, but when I looked up, all you could see was smoke from where they were shooting. I could still hear them," McMath said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.