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Shots Fired: A deeper look at street crime in Columbia

Eight times a week, on average, is how often someone in Columbia has called 911 reporting “shots fired” or “shots heard” this year.

The problem is not getting better. About 70 % of those calls have come in during the last five months.

It’s happening in public. A shooting happened on the Business Loop just last week and sent a person to the hospital.The triggerman is still on the loose.

Tonight, in a Special Report, ABC 17’s Marissa Hollowed talks to police, people living in the neighborhoods where crimes are occurring and even some of criminals already behind bars for past shootings, trying to get some answers about what’s going on.

“I’m locked up right now for a murder,” Lamarr Mayfield said to Marissa Hollowed in the common area of South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri.
Today , Mayfield is 18, he’ll be in prison until, “I will be like 28, 27,” said Mayfield. When Mayfield was just 15-years-old, he shot and killed 17-year-old Bryan Rankin Junior.

“Some dude in the passenger seat tried to give him a gun. Whatever, when I seen the gun, I already had mine and I shot dude,” said Mayfield.

The guy Mayfield references in the passenger’s seat is Nicholas Thomas. Thomas was with Rankin the night he was killed. The probable cause statement never mentions Thomas having a gun and Thomas tells ABC 17’s Marissa Hollowed he never had a gun.

Thomas said about that night, “It was a lot, mixed emotions,” as he watched Rankin Jr. die next to him.

Prosecutors say watching his friend die fueled Thomas to kill in retaliation, which Thomas denies. Thomas, now 21, is spending the rest of his life in the Jefferson City Correctional Center for killing Lamarr Mayfield’s friend 17-year-old Tre’veon Marshall.

“That was a real cool dude of mine. It’s crazy how he had to die, at the same time, we all knew what we was doing,” said Mayfield.

Joshua Murray is also serving 10 years at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center for first degree assault and second degree burglary related to this incident at McKee Park.

Mayfield and Thomas tell ABC 17’s Marissa Hollowed they have no gang affiliation. Although, Mayfield says gangs are operating right now in Columbia.
Columbia Police confirm this is true. They say about 3 to 4 gangs exist. Mayfield says two of the biggest are called “Squad Up” and “Young Money.”

“Usually gangs are based on geographical proximity, so maybe they grew up together,” sais Bryana Larimer, a public information officer for the Columbia Police Department.

For this story, ABC 17’s Marissa Hollowed also met with She’aun Prince who is in the Moberly Correctional Center for burglary, for an incident on West Texas Avenue in 2014 where a suspect was shot and killed. His bond was originally set at $1,000,000 dollars for his alleged ties to “Squad Up.” Prince maintains he’s not a gang member and “There’s no real gangs in Columbia,” said Prince.

ABC 17’s Marissa Hollowed reached out to a sergeant with CPD’s street crime unit, but no one from the department wanted to comment. Larimer says the unit is actively trying to control the gang violence.

“The street crimes unit, they essentially are searching for career criminals. They will do a lot of narcotics, street narcotics busts, they will do a lot of intelligence information,” said Larimer.

The street crimes division runs into some challenges with gang activity.

“With gangs, there is always a concern sometime with witness cooperation. We’ve seen that in some of our instances of shots fired,” said Larimer.

Mayfield said, “Loose lips, sink ships. If you tell on someone, you played a part in it. So tell on somebody else, you gotta admit what you did.”

Mayfield also says many gang members are armed. “If somebody’s shooting at you this is not a game, they trying to take your life, so they can keep theirs. You gotta have the mentality that you take they life so you keep living,” said Mayfield.

It may be this ‘shoot or be shot’ mentality that’s keeping Columbia’s streets saturated with gun violence.

“I have never seen Columbia like this, with this much shooting and violence,” said Lorenzo Lawson, executive director of the Youth Empowerment Zone. Lawson was born in Columbia and has lived here most of his life.

“It bothers me and moves me to the point that I’m trying to do something about it,” he said. He reaches out to young kids through the Youth Empowerment Zone to help get children on the right track early. “These kids have been taught, the way you solve a problem is you fight. You get them before they get you,” said Lawson.

The city created a task force on community violence to address street crime shortly after a drive-by shooting in downtown Columbia in the summer of 2013. We spoke with councilman Michael Trapp, who was critical in starting the task force, to ask about progress.

“There has been ongoing implementation efforts but we have not conveyed those to the citizens very well so there’s been some discontent feeling that the recommendations have just been sitting there collecting dust, which is not at all the case,” said Trapp.

Statistics from the Columbia Police Department show violent crime is on an upward trend in the city right now. When it comes to gun violence, in 2013, there were 362 calls to 911 reporting shots fired or heard in the city. In 2014, there were 351. This year is not even over and it’s already higher than each of the last two years. At this pace, the city could see roughly 437 calls for shots fired or heard by the end of the year.

“If guns get to blazing somebody gonna get him, you just gotta be very observant,” said Mayfield.

“Bullets have no boundaries, that’s the one biggest issue that you see within this town is it may be gang related, but there are victims that are getting injured in the process,” said Larimer.

We’ve talked to many neighbors in areas where these shootings have occurred and heard responses like these:

“In retrospect you’re saying what is going on? Why here? Why did that happen in front of our house?” said a woman living on West Boulevard about shots on 9/28/2015. Another neighbor said, “It’s getting ridiculous, shot after shot after shot. My concern is its right there in front of West Bouevard Elementary.”

“I hear it, I wake up and I automatically have to check on my children to make sure they are okay,” said a woman about gunfire on the Business Loop this October.

“You’re afraid to leave your kids at the bus stop,” said a man living on Bodie Drive in response to gun shots in July. “To hear bullets and gunshots everyday, we have kids,” said another woman on Bodie Drive.

Thomas tells ABC 17 News that he thinks, “Columbia, it’s just going to get worse.”

“You can’t keep cancer in a certain spot. It’s gonna spread if you don’t treat it. That’s what we got. This violence in this community is a cancer and if we don’t treat it, it’s gonna spread,” said Lawson.

ABC 17 also spoke with the parents of Bryan Rankin Junior. They have moved out of state after their son was killed to get away from the violence in Columbia. They didn’t think it was a safe place to raise the rest of their children. Bryan Rankin Senior said that he contacted police a number of times about incidents in the street and he says he was told they were not able to help until “something happens.” Rankin Senior expressed his frustration with police and talked a great deal about the importance of parents getting involved in their children’s lives.

Columbia’s City manager plans to outline high crime areas and find ways to solve problems in those regions.

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