A recent series of gang-related drive-by shootings in one small Lakeland neighborhood have investigators begging the community to help them catch those responsible, police said Saturday.
The escalation of violence began July 3 when Rashard Smart, 31, was hurt in a drive-by shooting. Since then there have been seven more shootings, six of them drive-bys, and an armed robbery; none of the crimes have been deadly but the two youngest victims are 15 years old.
"It's just a matter of time. If they continue, something bad is going to happen and we don't want that. We want to stop it," said Lakeland Police Sgt. Gary Gross, who told Fox 13 News several gangs are likely involved. "It's just by the grace of God that no one's been killed."
The two most recent drive-by shootings happened Thursday outside homes on West 12th Street and West 8th Street; a 23-year-old was shot in the arm during the latter.
"You never know if you're coming out your door and it might be your last time coming out your door," said Victoria Moore, whose sister's boyfriend was strapping his daughter into a car seat when the shots were fired on West 12th Street. A bullet went through his vehicle and nearly hit the little girl. "How scary was that? All he could do was go in the house and hug everybody."
Other shootings have happened on West 9th Street, Augusta Street, Goodyear Avenue and two on Jewel Avenue, some involving semi-automatic weapons. There was also an armed robbery on Olive Street after which police arrested Xavier O'Neal, 18, who they said has gang ties.
All but one of the incidents happened within about a mile or less of each other.
"It's getting to the point to where it's not even safe to even walk to the store, said Eric Kelly, who lives in the neighborhood of the most recent drive-by shootings. "I just wish that all of this could just stop."
Anyone with information is asked to call Lakeland detectives at (863) 834-5991
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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