Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly expressed a mix of sorrow and outrage in response to shootings that left six teenagers injured downtown Saturday night, while the city's new police chief said her department is working nonstop to track down those responsible.
Police Chief Celeste Murphy said officers were patrolling downtown just before 11 p.m. when gunfire erupted in the area of 100 Cherry St. and 100 Walnut St. Murphy said a gun battle appeared to erupt between two groups of young people. She said one group appeared to target a single person from the other, meaning that most of those hit were probably not intentional targets.
Murphy said officers were trying to render aid to those who had been struck while getting other teens to safety.
The police chief and mayor spoke at a news conference Sunday at police headquarters.
"Six victims were struck by gunfire," Murphy said. "Four of them have nonlife-threatening injuries, and two of them are very, very critical. There was a person of interest that was detained last night. That person has been ruled out as a suspect. Investigators have reviewed all video that we know about."
She said police continue to look for more video of the incident.
Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly says Saturday night shooting began with disagreement among teens
"The investigators, they worked all night chasing all of the available leads," Murphy said. "They've never stopped. And at this time, it does not seem to be any connection to anything gang-related. That's not been completely ruled out, but there's nothing indicating that at this time."
Kelly joined Murphy in thanking the police officers who worked the incident for their fast action in helping victims and efforts to limit the bloodshed. He also expressed a range of emotions in reaction to the shootings.
"First on, I'm heartbroken for the families and the victims whose lives were upended last night by gunfire," the mayor said. "No parent should ever have to get that call. So as a community right now, there's a lot of hurt and grieving.
"But I'm also angry. Six teenagers were shot last night That's outrageous, and it has to stop. It's ridiculous that I even need to publicly state that guns have no place in the hands of our kids."
Charge to parents
Neither Kelly nor Murphy were bashful about directly addressing the city's parents during Sunday's news conference.
"Parents also need to be responsible," the mayor said. "If you know your kid has access to a firearm, you must intervene before someone, perhaps even your own child, ends up dead. The kind of gun violence that erupted last night is often rooted in neglect. All of us, especially parents, caregivers and families, must be actively involved in knowing where our children are, what they're doing and ensuring they don't get their hands on weapons that can harm themselves and others. If you have a firearm, keep it securely locked away from children."
The mayor also reminded parents that they are civilly and criminally liable for the violent acts of their children. He said he was directing his office to work with the police department and the district attorney to enforce existing laws that hold parents accountable for knowingly providing or allowing children access to guns that result in violence.
"I just ask all parents, just you know, know where your kids are at night and make sure that, you know, you report any activity, even if it's their friends, if we know about any weapons," Murphy said.
Chorus of mayors
Kelly said he had already added his voice to those of mayors from across the nation calling for more gun control measures.
The shootings in Chattanooga came less than a week after an 18-year-old opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 students and two teachers. The shooter, who himself was fatally shot by law enforcement during the incident, had previously shot and killed his grandmother.
"I can't say this clearly enough, easy access to illegal guns is killing kids, and our community has a responsibility to put a stop to it," Kelly said. "This is exactly why I joined mayors from across the United States last week to call on the U.S. Senate to pass common-sense gun reforms to our gun safety laws. Background checks, red flag laws, raising the age limit so that children can't purchase assault rifles. These are the things that the vast majority of Americans support, as do our law enforcement professionals. Notably, there is no reason to wait, so I'll add my voice to the chorus saying that we need to pass these laws now."
The shootings took place in the heart of the city's tourism district, less than a week before the signature Riverbend Festival is to take the stage. Officials promised a beefed up police presence for the event.
In the area of the shooting Sunday, there was little trace of turmoil. Patrons ate ice cream outside the Ice Cream Show, enjoying live street music, while others strolled across Walnut Street Bridge.
"You can't live in fear," said Velma Willis, a member of the band Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie, as she was setting up to perform. "I don't know the real answer (to gun violence) except for homes, church, schools, law enforcement. All that has broken down a little bit, and we need to do something to help build it all back up," Willis said.
She and her band have played near the site of Saturday's shooting, right outside the Ice Cream Show, four or five times before. After this weekend's violence, the band wanted to bring some happiness Sunday.
"People are still out, people are still doing a lot. People are still doing a lot of things," Willis said.
But not everyone felt as confident as Willis. Lynda Curtis, owner of the Ice Cream Show, said she had three employees who refused to come to work.
"I had an employee that was going to take trash down last night, just before it happened. He got delayed for some reason. And he won't work today because he's terrified," Curtis said.
Though Curtis wasn't working at the shop when the incident occurred, she lives nearby.
She didn't hear any shots but was awakened by her children after the shooting. She remembers seeing ambulance lights and hearing loud sirens.
"The world is in sad shape when 13- and 14-year-olds are out there with guns and killing other kids," Curtis said.
She's concerned how the shooting might affect business.
"I have several employees that don't want to work today, won't work tonight. Don't maybe want to work the whole week," she said, adding that holiday weekends are some of her biggest days.
However, she said business was going well Sunday.
For her, the answer isn't more gun control, but earlier curfews.
"I think that's what it's going to need, curfew. And there's probably not enough police. But I wouldn't mind it if at least one police were out here," Curtis said.
Chattanooga resident Kim Nageotte, who lives in Walnut Commons apartments down the street from where the shooting occurred, agrees that a curfew is necessary.
"I think there should be a curfew or something," Nageotte said. "Because it's a lot of teenagers. And I think that's what it was last night. But for residents, we want to feel safe. And this is our neighborhood even though it's downtown. But people that come in to visit should be respectful of that."
After the shooting, Nageotte said she feels less safe.
"I don't think it would slow me down much. But I will definitely be more aware of my surroundings. I'm already carrying Mace and a Taser, but that doesn't help when somebody has a gun. So I'm definitely more aware, and I will not go into the big crowds, especially late at night when there are a bunch of people running around," Nageotte said.
For her, the answer is gun control.
"I would just think that nobody needs those types of guns that aren't in the military. I'm a big gun control person. And I don't think that people should have such easy access to guns," she said.
City curfew was addressed during the news conference.
In October, the City Council approved a curfew requiring 17-year-olds to be at home or accompanied by an adult from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, and midnight to 6 a.m. during the weekends.
The curfew also states that 16-year-olds and under have a 10 p.m. curfew during the week, while during the weekends they can stay out until 11 p.m. According to police information officer Sgt. Jeremy Eames, if the curfew is violated, citations are issued.
According to Eames, violence in the city so far this year is lower than last year.
"Chattanooga is actually considerably down in violence," Eames said. "For the year, we're actually in a much better place than we were this time last year, so we're seeing good things happen."
Murphy asked if anyone had any information about the shootings to call 423-643-5100 or submit a tip through the department's new Atlas One app, stating that tips can be made anonymously.
Blood donors needed
A local blood bank issued a call for donors in response to Saturday's shootings.
According to Blood Assurance media relations coordinator Max Winitz, there was only enough blood for a one-day supply as of Friday. Blood Assurance is asking the community to help fill the shortage by donating blood so it can meet the high demand stemming from the shootings.
All donation centers in Chattanooga will be open on Monday despite the holiday, according to the news release. People can go online to schedule their appointment to donate by visiting bit.ly/BAPleaseGive, by calling 800-962-0628 or texting BAGIVE to 999777.