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Caught in the line of fire: Two 4-year-old girls wounded in drive-by shooting

Thirteen-year-old Janae Stafford and her younger brother Calvin Stafford Jr. were sitting in their living room on Youngstown Road on Thursday afternoon when sudden gunshots rang out.

Close. Really close.

Janae and Calvin hit the floor. They counted seven or eight shots.

"And then we heard a little girl screaming," Janae said.

Two 4-year-old girls were wounded in a drive-by shooting two houses down, in the 3800 block of Youngstown Road. The girls, who will not be identified because they are minors, were playing outside when a vehicle rolled up and someone inside it started shooting.

The girls were caught in the line of fire.

Neither was seriously injured. Police said their injuries seemed to be the result of bullet shrapnel rather than direct hits. The two girls are not related, but are friends, according to police.

"This could have been horrifically tragic," Police Chief Fred Fletcher said. "Someone in our community fired rounds near two small children and put their lives in danger. It's completely unacceptable."

In the hours after the shooting, neighbors brought their kids inside and braced for more violence. A few doors down, Latonia Jones packed up some swimsuits and towels and took her two youngsters to the pool.

"It ain't over," she said. "Somebody's kid got shot. They're gonna go back and retaliate and then [the other shooters] are gonna come back and retaliate."

Fletcher said there is "good indication" that the shooting was gang-related. A gang member is associated with a duplex at the address the shooter targeted, Fletcher said, although it is unclear whether the gang member actually lives there.

More Info

YEAR TO DATE SHOOTINGS, AS OF JUNE 11

2013: 67

2014: 55

2015: 56

GANG-RELATED YEAR-TO-DATE SHOOTINGS

2013: 43

2014: 35

2015: 31

YEAR-TO-DATE HOMICIDES

2013: 13

2014: 14

2015: 11

Source: Chattanooga Police

The neighborhood is usually quiet, Jones and others said. Neatly spaced, squat brick houses sit back from the road, which weaves through woods and weeds near Bonny Oaks Drive. But in the last few weeks, several neighbors said they've heard at least one, maybe two other shootings.

"This is the third time we've heard shots in the last two weeks," said Lennis Shadrick, mother of Janae and Calvin.

Several neighbors said they heard shots around 5 a.m. about a week ago on Sunday. Fletcher asked that anyone with information about Thursday's shooting contact police.

"There is a criminal in this town who risked the lives of 4-year-olds for their own personal vendetta," he said. "We need the community to tell us who this is."

He added that the shooter should have been able to see the girls in the yard before pulling the trigger.

"They were in the yard and they should have been visible to anybody who cared about their community, anybody who cared about human life, anyone who cared about a 4-year-old," he said.

The number of shootings this year is on pace with last year, according to police. By June 11 last year, there had been 55 shootings in the city, compared with 56 this year to date.

More than half of this year's shootings — 31 — were gang-related. Last year, there had been 35 gang-related shootings in the same time frame.

After the police collected evidence, took down the bright yellow crime tape and drove away, next-door neighbor Crystal Hill watched her two boys, ages 7 and 4, play in her front yard.

"It sucks because it's so close to home," she said. "You don't think someone will come through here shooting. But they did."

Contact staff reporter Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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