Chattanooga residents describe running gun battle on 13th Street

photo A shooting on 13th Street early Sunday morning left this house with at least 10 bullet holes.

Crime in Ridgedale area, 2014Ridgedale is bordered by McCallie Avenue, East Main Street, Willow Street and the bottom of Missionary Ridge. These statistics are for a slightly larger area.• Rape: 2• Robbery: 16• Aggravated assault: 28• Simple assault: 44• Burglary: 60• Drug violations: 44• Weapon offenses: 9Source: Chattanooga Police Department

photo Site of shooting on East 13th Street.
photo A shooting on 13th Street early Sunday morning left this house with at least 10 bullet holes.

Jose Mazariegos peeked out his front door when the barrage of gunshots rang out just after midnight Sunday on East 13th Street -- and he saw a teenager with a shotgun, chasing after a car.

Just feet from Mazariegos' home, the teenager paused, holding the gun at stomach level, and fired two shots at the car. Other kids were running down the other end of 13th, and after a few seconds, Mazariegos heard more shots from down the road.

The neighborhood was a battlefield.

"It was not just a drive-by," Mazariegos said. "There was a crossfire, the [people in the house] had guns and everything."

Five people were injured in the shootout, police said, including a juvenile. The initial shooters drove up and targeted the house at 2412 E. 13th St. -- there was a party going on there -- and then the partygoers gave chase, Mazariegos and other witnesses said.

Even in Ridgedale, where residents are used to gunfire and burglaries, the incident put neighbors on edge. On Monday, some residents hunkered down behind locked doors, hoping to ride out the most recent violence. Others spoke out to say police aren't doing enough to keep people safe and put criminals away.

"These young boys don't have nothing to do but get out here and terrorize you," said one neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. "This is why we stay in the house. Ain't no telling when somebody might take a shot at you."

Although police responded within minutes to the gunfire Sunday morning, he doesn't think police can protect him.

"You don't see [police] out here until something happens," he said.

"Unless you call the police, you don't see police cars out here," Mazariegos said.

Gary Ball, vice president of the Ridgedale Community Association who owns a home on 13th Street, said the violence is nothing new and that whatever police are doing isn't working.

"I'm upset that we have to repeat this over and over and over," he said. "It's always the same old story. These guys know they can come in and terrorize a neighborhood -- which is what they did the other night -- terrorize a street and just leave everybody in turmoil."

But police Chief Fred Fletcher said he's seen several positive changes in the wake of this shooting. Community members have been more willing to cooperate with police during this investigation than they have been before, he said -- a shift he credits to the department's new focus on community policing.

After the shooting Sunday, the department shuffled its resources around to funnel extra officers into the Ridgedale area and other places where police thought there could be more violence. The officers were told to be extra visible in order to act as a deterrent, Fletcher said.

"With five people shot, we were really worried about an immediate retaliation, and we had none last night," he said. "And we feel like that was a positive response."

Fletcher said it's too early to say for sure whether the shooting was gang-related, but he said the investigation has several promising leads.

Police were called to the house at 2412 E. 13th just once so far this year, police communications coordinator Kyle Miller said, for a simple assault/domestic violence call. Mazariegos said the family at the home had lived there for about a year before Sunday's shootout and added that large groups often gather at the home.

photo Ridgeland Community Association President Gary Ball talks Monday about increasing police presence in the area after a shooting on 13th street early Sunday morning left a house with at least 10 bullet holes and five people injured.

Olga de Klein, a leader in the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, which borders Ridgedale, said she and others in the neighborhood are also frustrated by the ongoing violence.

"It's like pulling out a weed and another comes straight back," she said. "When you live in a neighborhood where you have to watch out constantly -- make sure you have all your windows closed, make sure you don't leave things out on your porch -- that is not the American way."

But she added, she knows that lasting change takes time.

"The police are doing everything they can," she said. "I know that for a fact."

Still, that's not much comfort to people like Mazariegos. His home on 13th Street, which he owns, was burglarized about a week before Thanksgiving. He also owns two other houses nearby that he rents out. But he said his tenants are worried.

"They get scared and try to move somewhere else," he said. "But everywhere they go, they find trouble."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or [email protected] with tips or story ideas.