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Bullet holes left on a vehicle parked at Hamilton Pines apartment complex are seen after a shooting left Joel Ervin dead early Tuesday morning, July 30, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Gang disputes

As the city grapples with its most violent month this year, the Chattanooga Police Department is ramping up efforts to suppress the violence.

While June and July have had the same amount of shootings — 15 — July has seen more victims and the most gun-related deaths so far this year. Six people have died.

The latest spate came Monday night into Tuesday morning when two separate shootings left one person dead and two injured.

Joel Ervin, 37, was getting out of a vehicle at the Hamilton Pines apartment complex, located at 3301 Pinewood Avenue, just before 2:31 a.m. on Tuesday when he was shot and killed, Chattanooga police said.

When police arrived, they found a person trying to render aid to Ervin, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police have requested video surveillance footage from apartment's management and they are cooperating.

Five hours earlier, two people were injured in a drive-by shooting at about 9:38 p.m. Monday night.

Police were called to the 2200 block of Milne Street on a report of shots fired. Shortly after they arrived, police got a call about two male victims, 26 and 27, arriving at a local hospital with gunshot wounds.

After confirming the men were shot on Milne Street, officers secured the scene and called for Violent Crimes Bureau investigators to respond.

Investigators spoke with the victims and witnesses and determined a group of people were gathered outside when a vehicle drove by and began shooting.

It's not clear if the shootings are connected, but police have confirmed that the Pinewood Avenue shooting was not random.

While warmer weather and lack of rain, as well as time of year — like summer break — usually play a part in crime rates, some of the recent violence is part of two ongoing gang disputes, police Chief David Roddy told Chattanooga City Council members during Tuesday afternoon's planning session. Police have said the dispute dates back to 2016 and, currently, is primarily between the Gangster Disciples and Kemp Drive Posse — a neighborhood subset comprised of Skyline and Tree Top Pirus, and even some Gangster Disciples, as well.

Just more than one-third of June and July's shootings are known to be gang-related. Slightly under half are still not confirmed.

Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said she's noticed shootings have increased since the release of a high-ranking member of the Gangster Disciples. Neither Coonrod nor police confirmed who the gang member was, but it could be in reference to Antonio Watkins.

Watkins, 25 and a known Gangster Disciple, was arrested earlier this year after a grand jury indicted him in connection to the attempted homicide of Natasha Jones on July 4, 2016.

He was released on a $95,000 bond on June 29 of this year, according to Hamilton County Criminal Court.

In the meantime, police are working to get in front of the violence. They're making connections and determining which shootings are retaliatory and which ones are completely unrelated.

And, starting Tuesday, there was to be an increased police presence in certain areas where there's been an increase in violence, Roddy told council members during Tuesday's planning session.

But it's not an effort to saturate neighborhoods, he said. It's about communication.

"[It's] just get out and talk," he said. "The officers get out of their cars and engage with individuals that may be standing in a parking lot doing nothing wrong, but we all know that, sometimes, individuals standing in a parking lot, sometimes they become targets."

It's not the first thing police have done in hopes of getting ahead of the violence. Police have been using a "three-pillar approach" to combat violent crime through community policing, technology and "focused deterrence." Focused deterrence targets the few groups and individuals police say are driving violence while offering support to those looking for a way out.

The city and other non-profit organizations offer the supportive arm of focused deterrence by helping current and former inmates land jobs, become better fathers and encourage them to turn away from violence.

But the message doesn't always get through to those who are in the midst of grief and anger.

Councilman Anthony Byrd said he was at the Milne Street shooting Monday night and spoke to a man at the scene.

"I asked him, 'What can we as a council — what can I do to help? What can I do to solve this problem?' He was like, 'Byrd, they hurt me, so I'm gonna hurt them. I don't care what's going on or what you do, what program you put in place. I'm hurt. I want them to hurt.'"

"That right there, it just stopped me," Byrd said. "I just walked around the community for a long time We're headed down a really crazy path To hear that young man say that, he meant it from his heart. 'I hurt, they gon' hurt.'"

A police spokeswoman said the victims of the Milne Street shooting both had injuries that were not life-threatening as of Tuesday morning.

As for Ervin, the man — a father and a barber — who died on Pinewood Avenue, his friends and family have taken to social media to mourn his death.

"Rest easy King. God bless his kids man. They just took a father away from his kids. S--- ain't right at all," one post read.

"This just cut me in a way that can't be explained," another post read. "I don't know what to say right now. Boy we done been thru plenty together U was always doing good deeds and trying to help anyone u could. Ieven used to travel down from Winchester/Tullahoma TN, just to pull up and let u cut my hair You loved all your young'ns unconditionally and u made that known 24/7 I'll never forget our mission bro. I'll never forget your encouraging words and I promise to never let u down bro."

Ervin's death marked Chattanooga's 16th gun-related homicide this year. So far, there have been 64 shootings resulting in 79 victims. By this time last year, there had been 72 victims, 10 of whom died.

While this year's number of victims is higher than last year, it's still below 2017 and 2016, a year that saw a violent gang war.

In 2017, there had been 90 victims including 22 deaths, and in 2016, there had been 94 victims with 17 deaths.

Chattanooga Police ask anyone with information regarding the shooting incidents to call 423-698-2525 or submit a tip via the CPD Mobile App. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter@HughesRosana.

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