Less than one week since a flurry of Sunday night gunfire left three dead and three wounded in Richmond and North Richmond, police and sheriffs are still looking for answers.
And tensions run high.
“I hope it doesn’t happen, but this is maybe becoming a hot summer out here,” said Lucky Braimah, owner and manager of a corner grocery in North Richmond.
As Braimah spoke, at least three Sheriff’s cruisers circled the one-square mile unincorporated area.
During one dizzying three-hour stretch on the evening of July 3, four separate shootings rocked Richmond and North Richmond. When the gunfire stopped, three men were dead and three others injured, and Richmond police and County Sheriffs were left with few clues as to what had prompted the wave of violence or who was behind it.
“We’ve made no arrests,” Sheriff’s spokesperson Jimmy Lee said on Thursday. “We still don’t have any suspects and we still don’t really have a motive.”
Although law enforcement officials are not clear about what triggered the shootings, both Richmond police and sheriff’s department officials believe the shootings were linked in a sequence of retaliatory violence.
It’s been a familiar story for years in Richmond and North Richmond, a tiny unincorporated community divided from the city by lines drawn by political expediency rather than logic. Neighborhood squabbles escalate, someone gets shot, then crews of youths and young men from one neighborhood or the other look for retaliation. Often, there is no specific target—shooters just aim for a young man in a rival neighborhood.
That’s what police have said likely happened to Rashad Bailey, 19, who was killed while sitting in a car in south Richmond. Bailey was a college student and recent graduate of Richmond High School.
His death came after a 9 p.m. shooting at 39th Street and Ohio Avenue in Central Richmond which left one man seriously wounded. About 90 minutes later, a drive-by in the 100 block of Ruby Street in North Richmond left Ray Anthony Hutson, 28, dead and a 24-year-old man wounded. Hutson was struck by multiple rounds. The 24-year-old remains hospitalized in serious condition, Lee said.
It was that shooting that may have led to Bailey’s death, Richmond police have said, which occurred on Center Avenue around 11 p.m., less than 30 minutes after the North Richmond shooting.
In a grim denouement, the night’s violence ended with another deadly hail of gunfire just a few minutes later. A car parked at First Street and Macdonald Avenue near the St. John’s apartments was riddled with bullets, killing Darrell Duncan, 26, and seriously injuring a 30-year-old man.
Richmond Police Department Lt. Bisa French has acknowledged that police believe the shootings are linked. “We agree with that [assessment],” Lee said. “There is a strong possibility the shootings are connected, but until we get the ballistics back we can’t be sure.”
In North Richmond on Tuesday, neighbors and local youths said the shooting that killed Hutson was another case of assailants from the city of Richmond coming into North Richmond looking for a target. Hutson was a longtime resident whose father, Ray Hutson Sr., is a well-known and respected man in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, sheriff’s department deputies were active in North Richmond following the shootings. At least three cruisers swept through the neighborhood Tuesday evening, probing around the Las Deltas housing projects.
At one point, at least two deputies bolted from their cruisers and gave chase to two youths who scrambled for cover when the cruisers turned the corner on Silver Avenue. Minutes later, after an engine-roaring acceleration and chirping stop the 1600 block of Third Street, sheriffs searched, cuffed and detained the teens in the back of their squad cars.
Neighbors gathered on the sidewalk to watch. After about 20 minutes, deputies released the boys, who half-jogged into a waiting throng of friends.
Sheriffs and police vow to be on high alert in the coming days to head-off more violence.
“We want to maintain a strong presence out there to avoid having a situation like this again,” Lee said.
The two killings in Richmond bring the city’s total homicide count to 15 this year, after just 21 killings in all of 2010.
In unincorporated North Richmond, which has fewer than 2,500 residents, Hutson’s death was the third homicide this year.
On consecutive nights in late March, Ervin Coley III, 21, and Jerry Owens, 22, were killed in drive-by shootings. No arrests have been made in any of the North Richmond homicides this year, Lee said.
At Braimah’s grocery on Tuesday, the wall of which contains dozens of spray-painted names in an homage to the victims of street violence, the cash-register chat was about the recent violence and the beefed-up police presence.
“You just be careful, don’t go out at night,” Braimah told a young patron.