A rash of gun violence in Springfield has many on high alert. Vigils on Thursday, the day after a fatal shooting that took place at Comer Cox Park, honored one of the latest victims.
Robbie Davis lives right across from Comer Cox Park - over on the north east side of town. He plays basketball on the courts there regularly, it’s a good place for his four kids to also play and socialize with the neighborhood. He says he witnessed the shooting death of 19-year-old Andres Booker III on Wednesday evening. "We were just all playing basketball having a good time, next thing you know shots rang out and we ran - we looked over and he was running, he fell ... Nothing led to it, there was no fight or anything."
The fatal shooting of Booker led to a car and then foot chase that ended on another side of town, in Leland Grove. Police say they apprehended four suspects. Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow was at a vigil at the park the day after the shooting. He commended those who helped police find the suspects. "Far too often we turn a blind eye because we don’t want to get involved, because, 'It’s not my problem ... I don’t want to be in fear of retaliation.' Nothing’s more frustrating than when we show up on one of these horrific scenes with 15 or 20 people and it’s chaos, and nobody saw nothing. We got to have people who will step up and say, 'Enough’s enough in my community - in my neighborhood.'"
The head of the local and state NAACP chapter, Theresa Haley, was also there. She echoed the sentiment that it's important for residents to be vigilant and work with police. “And I’m asking everybody - when the NAACP says we’re having a town hall meeting ... and you’re concerned about this community - we’re asking you to come out. Voice your opinions - but also, when you bring problems, bring solutions," she told the crowd.
Overall, Springfield police have responded to more reports of shots being fired this year than last. Three people were shot and killed in the month of May. One of those killed was a pregnant woman who was shot on a city sidewalk. Her baby was successfully delivered via c-section. Winslow says he blames two loosely formed gangs. “What we see in our community is not what you think of when you think of traditional gangs - a lot of time they’re referred to as a hybrid gang ... There is no real hierarchy or structure in that - there is no geographical turf - that’s not what we see here.” Winslow says members of the groups have gotten wise to the fact that overt gang affiliation can come with harsher penalties for crimes.
There are more meetings that have been planned and organized, the mayor’s office has said it is addressing the issue and looking at "solutions to youth programming within our community." After the officials began to leave the park at a vigil for Booker, kids and neighbors showed up for their own, with balloons and signs to commemorate the death of their friend - someone many described as a good person and talented athlete. 18-year-old Caleb Barnell says he recently moved to Springfield to escape violence, and he had befriended Booker. “We were good friends for a month - he was looking for a way in life ... He was a loner, he seemed like a good kid - quiet, minded his own business. He was just your average everyday kid.”
Barnell says he helped Booker get a job and the two worked together. They had talked about going to church the night Booker got shot. Barnell blames himself for not following up on the plans. Of course, it’s too much blame for one young man to shoulder. “We need to stop all this petty gang crap - there’s nothing real about it ... Those people are influencing kids to do dumb stuff - they’re taking a lot of people’s lives in the process and we don’t need that,” said Barnell. Summer months are notorious for coming along with an uptick in crime - as the weather warms and people grieve the loss of loved ones, many hope their memories will not be in vain.