By Jessica Tuggle
GIFFORD -- A regular community orientated policing enforcement meeting in Gifford highlighted dangerous shootings recently in the area.
About 30 Gifford residents, community leaders and members of the Indian River County Sheriff's Office gathered at the Gifford Youth Activity Center on April 15 and talked about community safety in light of recent shootings that left at least five injured.
Over Easter weekend, there were three incidents in Gifford, two of which are thought to be linked, and where guns were fired. One was a domestic incident, another a drive-by shooting and the other was amid a crowd of 300 or more people.
Since then, other domestic disturbances in the area have involved firearms as well.
Freddie Woolfork said the domestic incidents are harder to address but overall, the community and the churches and the law enforcement are working as a team to discourage disagreements from escalating to guns.
"What we're trying to do is get people to take another look at their situation and make a conscious decision," Mr. Woolfork said. "People can find themselves in an argument or a bad situation and at the moment it's just affecting them, but when a firearm is introduced into the picture, it affects everyone in the vicinity."
This isn't something one person, or a small handful of people can help accomplish, it's going to take a lot of people getting involved, Mr. Woolfork said.
"This isn't a lone ranger mentality, there needs to be a lot of Tontos going around," he said with a laugh.
T-shirts can be seen around the community with the saying "Nice people live in Gifford" and "Because nice matters." The shirts were donated by local man who wanted to show his support to the Gifford community, Mr. Woolfork said.
"Now people are wearing them as walking billboards," he said.
The sheriff's office showed the group the surveillance video from Smith's grocery on March 31 that pointed to the scene where a physical altercation turned even more dangerous when shots were fired, said Sgt. Thomas Raulen, public information officer with the sheriff's office.
"Community residents expressed disappointment after seeing the video and began discussing ways to avoid a situation like that from occurring again," he said.
The vacant lot next to the grocery store is owned by an individual who has been contacted by law enforcement.
"The area will now be designated as a no trespassing site with the goal of allowing law enforcement will be able to monitor its use more carefully," Sgt. Raulen said.
Encouraging people to disperse back to their homes after community events was another topic discussed at the meeting.
The reason so many people were gathered near the grocery store was because many of them congregated there after a community car show, Sheriff Deryl Loar said.
Groups that large with no activity fueling their purpose have the potential to be unsafe, as in the case of the March 31 shooting.
A physical fight between two pairs of brothers and their friends over a woman escalated into a shooting when someone fired a gun into the air, possibly to try and break up the fight, Sgt. Raulen said.
"After the first shot was fired, the crowd began to duck and scramble for cover, but shell casings on the ground show that more people fired their guns as well in the midst of the chaos. Casings of four guns were found at the scene," Sgt. Raulen said.
One arrest had been made in the case, but then the charges were dropped when it became clear it was a case of mistaken identity.
The Easter shootings are still active investigations, and anyone with more information about them can contact Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers give law enforcement a tip anonymously.
To submit an anonymous tip to Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers, call (800) 273-8477 or visit www.tcwatch.org.