SHOOTINGS IN 2013
• 25 shooting incidents since Jan. 5
• 6 shooting deaths
• 30 total shooting victims
• 27 shooting victims were in their teens and 20s
• 14 shooting incidents (and victims) in the past 17 days
Source: Chattanooga police, news reports
As the sun edged over Missionary Ridge on Thursday morning, it cast long shadows onto the Ridgedale and Highland Park neighborhoods where Chattanooga police had just cleared away the crime scene from the city's eighth homicide of the year.
It was the city's 25th shooting this year. Records show 30 people have been struck by bullets in 73 days. Six died. Two other city homicides were not caused by shootings. On average, that's a shooting every three days. All but three victims were in their teens or 20s. More than a few were related to gang violence, police or family members have said.
On Wednesday night, shots claimed 22-year-old Charleston Patrick Beard, of Chattanooga.
Beard was no stranger to crime. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 27, 2012, to attempted aggravated robbery and two counts of aggravated assault.
He was sentenced to eight years, but the sentences were suspended for time served -- including the year he spent in jail awaiting trial. He was placed on "enhanced probation," according to court clerks.
On Wednesday night, about a half-hour before midnight, Chattanooga police were called to the 2200 block of Vance Avenue, where they found Beard lying in the alley. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Police are being very close-mouthed about their investigation.
As early-morning shadows doubled the outlines of Tennessee Temple's black iron fences a couple of blocks to the west, a tall young man in black walked along Vance with a cellphone to his ear beneath gold-tipped dreadlocks and an upturned hood.
He said he'd seen police combing the neighborhood when he came home from work just after midnight.
"It was Charlie. That was his real name. But we called him 'Little Hustle,'" said the man, who refused to give his name.
Was anyone out to get Charlie?
"I don't know what's going on. I really don't," the young man said. "We see it all day. I hope it gets better out here. It's sad right here."
He turned to watch a police cruiser approaching.
"Let me get on. Here comes the police. They already got on me about standing in the street," he said, raising his fingers in a good-bye wave.
A couple of blocks east toward Dodds Avenue, Martha Ross was getting out of her car after a trip to the store.
She said the shooting was about the third in as many weeks in the tiny neighborhood that straddles the community line between Highland Park and Ridgedale. And the mother of LaMunta Williams, the 16-year-old who was shot on March 5 near Howard School, lives just up the street, she added.
"You know this is hard on her," Ms. Ross said.
She nods quickly when asked if she's afraid.
"Oh, yes," she said, emphasizing the yes. "I have my alarm on my house and everything, and my little [alert button] around my neck. If I have any problem I can call for help."
In March, the shootings really picked up. Since March 5, police have worked 14 shootings in which someone was killed or injured: Almost one a day.
Boyd Patterson, the former Hamilton County prosecutor who now heads up the Chattanooga Gang Task Force, said it is vitally important that everyone in the community -- especially witnesses -- pitch in to help stop, or at least slow, the violence.
"This is not kid stuff. These are young people making life-and-death decisions. They are kids with guns in their hands," he said.
Helping is not going to be easy, and it will take more people working on relationships than on law enforcement and crime suppression, he said.
"Everybody in the city needs to understand that we need to focus on what we can control. We cannot afford to put police officers on every corner, and there are not resources to reach every kid," he said.
A relationship, however, does not cost a dime.
"All of this comes down to relationships. Whatever is missing in these kids' lives, they get that fulfilled in street gangs. And that's natural adolescent behavior [to seek reinforcement from peers], but it becomes [a problem] when that peer group commits crimes against other people," Patterson said.
Police spokesman Nathan Hartwig said detectives are continuing to work on the Beard case, and anyone with information on the crime is asked to call the Chattanooga Police Department at 423-698-2525.