By: Leilyn Torres
LAKELAND, Fla. — Lakeland Police Chief Sam Taylor said police have likely located the vehicle involved in a drive-by mass shooting on Monday afternoon and that detectives have “very promising leads” on the suspects.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Taylor said the victim count increased from 10 to 11 people injured after a walk-in at the hospital. Of those, two victims were critically injured.
Taylor said a dark blue, 4-door Nissan sedan, was found in a west Lakeland neighborhood, but he didn’t share the exact location. Taylor said the vehicle still has to undergo forensic testing, but he has a “high level of confidence” it’s the vehicle involved.
Lakeland Police said officers were called to the area near Iowa Avenue North and Plum Street — which is just north of downtown — around 3:40 p.m.
During a news conference on Monday, Taylor said a Nissan sedan with tinted windows and a paper tag drove onto the street and rolled down all four of its windows.
According to Taylor, the suspects inside the car opened fire at the victims, who were sitting and standing along the sidewalks on both sides of the car.
Taylor said on Tuesday that there were at least four people in the vehicle, and at least two of them were actively shooting.
No suspects are in custody at this time, but Taylor said there are “people we’re very interested in” related to the incident. He also said the vehicle found by police is registered to someone, and police are interested in talking to that person.
Investigators located shell casings of both a 9mm handgun and a .223 caliber rifle.
Police said 11 people were shot; nine suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and two are in critical condition.
“One was shot in the abdomen and the other was shot in the face or the jaw area,” Taylor said.
All of the victims were adult men ranging in age from 20 to 35.
Of the two critically injured victims, Taylor said one underwent surgery at Lakeland Regional, and the other, the man who was shot in the face, was transferred to Tampa General Hospital.
A man who identified himself as “Dex” said he was working on his car in the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex when the drive-by shooting happened just feet away.
“I heard pop. It was loud there, but it got louder here. And pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” he said. “I counted 13.”
The incident particularly frustrates Dex because he said a number of children live and play in the area. In fact, according to Taylor, a school bus had dropped off children in the area just one minute before the shooting.
“You know, these are babies. I lost a child. So anyway, you now — a bullet don’t have a name,” Dex said. “Anybody could have been hit.”
Chief Taylor said detectives do not believe the drive-by shooting was a random act and said there is no threat to the public.
Some neighbors, though, said their neighborhood — which is just a block from a major thoroughfare and just minutes from downtown — has its issues.
Timothy Mullins, who heard the shots from his nearby home, said he wasn’t particularly surprised by the shooting.
“Things are just getting crazy,” Mullins said. “I mean, what people do is what they do, if you know what I mean. I don’t like to say too much, you know what I’m saying?”
“It’s a challenged neighborhood,” Chief Taylor answered during the news conference. “The neighbors would not be incorrect.”
The chief said a felony quantity of marijuana packaged for sale was found near the shooting scene. While he can’t yet say for certain, Taylor believes drugs may have played a factor.
He said 15 detectives will work around the clock to locate the gunmen, and extra patrols will be assigned to the area since retaliatory shootings are a possibility.
If you have any information, you’re asked to contact the Lakeland Police at 1-800-226-8477. Lakeland Police is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
He said, even before Monday’s shooting, the police department dedicated additional resources and manpower to the neighborhood and will continue to do so.
This story was originally published Jan. 30 by WFTS in Tampa Bay, an E.W. Scripps Company.