Chief: Citizen tips help in the wake of gang-related shootings that killed teen

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Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said he believes the community is tired of the violence in the city. He, along with Deputy Chief Mitch Cunningham, left, spoke about a series of gunfire Sunday that began with a fatal shooting on Castle Street. Photo by Christina Haley.
Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said he believes the community has had enough of the violence in the city. He, along with Deputy Chief Mitch Cunningham (left), spoke about the gang violence Sunday that began with a fatal morning shooting on Castle Street. Photo by Christina Haley.

A fatal shooting Sunday morning was the first in a series of three daytime gang-related shootings that spread across the city. While investigators work to find suspects in the recent tragedies, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said citizens are “stepping up” and providing clues that are helping investigators make quick progress in the case.

“Yesterday was not good day in our city,” Evangelous said in news conference Monday about the gunfire Sunday that first sparked on Castle Street, and left one teen-age boy dead and four other teens wounded in a drive-by shooting.

A dark-colored sedan drove by the corner of 11th and Castle Streets, its occupants firing shots at a group of teens around 11:40 a.m., according to Wilmington Police Department Capt. Jim Verrone. Police found 16-year-old Shane Simpson, a New Hanover High School student, dead at the corner of the intersection.

Four other teens – two 15-year-olds, and a 16- and 17-year-old – were shot and taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center to be treated for injuries that were not considered life-threatening. They have since been released from the hospital, Varrone said. Investigators suspect two additional shootings that stretched across the city Sunday afternoon – one on Clay Street and another on 17th Street – are related to the shooting on Castle Street, Varrone said.

At 12:23 p.m. Sunday, gunfire broke out in the 500 block of Clay Street, where three men shot into an Acura and then ran from the area. The vehicle’s occupants were not injured but ran away from the scene. A nearby home was also damaged by gunfire.

A third shooting was reported about an hour later in the 2300 block of South 17th Street, Varrone said. No injuries or property damage were reported in the shooting.

Investigators worked into the night Sunday and are continuing their investigation, Varrone said at Monday’s press conference. Investigators have been working to speak with some of the victims and witnesses who made the 911 calls to police.

“What we do know as we’ve been able to piece this together…is that we are looking for more than one suspect in this case,” Varrone said. “We do have charges pending and we are actively looking for some individuals that are responsible for these crimes.”

Some of victims and suspects in the Castle Street shooting are validated gang members or have gang affiliation, Varrone said.

Varrone said he could not release the number of suspects detectives are looking for or additional details about the cases, citing the ongoing investigation. But the captain assured the community that detectives are working to bring the investigation to a close “sooner than later.”

Gang disputes suspected in Sunday shootings

Criminal investigators and members of the police department’s gang unit have been combining forces in the effort to seek out and find the suspects in Sunday’s shootings, according to Deputy Chief Mitch Cunningham, who oversees the gang unit. More than 200 gang members – some of whom are teens – have been validated in the city.

“The lifestyle that these gang members lead is extremely violent,” Cunningham said. “We’ve had young people being pulled into gangs and engage in this senseless behavior. Some of the motivations for some of these disputes that occurred yesterday are under investigation, but it is a deep tragedy that these young people are using this level of violence to settle these disputes.”

Evangelous said it’s a small percentage of people in the community who are usually committing the major violent crimes in Wilmington, most of which is “gang against gang” violence. Not all gang members are teens, he said.

As the violence escalates, the police chief shared his concern for not only young teens who get pulled into gangs and violence, but the innocent people who could end up getting caught in the crossfire. While speaking of his concern, the police chief referenced a recent case from August, when a 9-year-old girl was injured in a drive-by shooting.

Evangelous called on the community to continue to report both acts of gang violence and information ahead of such behavior.

“To the families and friends of gang members: You have a responsibility in this city and as a parent, to let us know when you know of information, of crimes, of guns, of retaliation — it’s your responsibility to protect your children,” Evangelous said. “We can’t turn a blind eye to this any longer…if you allow this to continue, we will have more deaths in the future.”

According to the police chief, the community has been helpful to the police department in the aftermath of the Castle Street shooting.

So far,  citizens have provided 10 tips through the police department’s anonymous “Text-a-Tip” line that could help bring the case to a “successful conclusion,” Evangelous said. The police chief thanked the anonymous citizens for the tips and encouraged the community to keep an open line of communication with investigators as they work though the case.

“Today I am proud to say that the community has stepped up,” Evanglous said. “I want to personally thank each one of these citizens in our community for stepping up and calling us, using Text-A-Tip, calling the police department, stopping our officers on the street…I believe people have had enough and they are stepping up and giving us information.”

Cunningham further asked the community to help investigators before the violence starts and alert the police department before disputes turn violent.

“If you hear that some of these kids are having a dispute [or] are having some kind of conflict, please call us. Please use Text-a-Tip,” Cunningham said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Wilmington Police Department at 910-343-3609 or Text-A-Tip to CRIMES. Start your message with Tip708, then type your tip.