The national gun control debate focuses on banning assault weapons and keeping guns away from the mentally ill. But local reality is different. Gang activity and easy access to common handguns are the roots of the recent rash of gun deaths in Fort Wayne.
"You're not going to find any assault weapons in the group," Police Chief Rusty York said. "A lot of them are 9 mm semiautomatics. That seems to be the gun of choice these days. That's the problem. There's just so many damn guns out there."
In the first four months of 2013, 16 people died from gunshots in Allen County. All were killed in Fort Wayne, with the exception of Robert W. Kanyuh, who was shot March 30 in a home invasion in southwest Allen County.
The vast majority of the recent gun homicides were gang related, with a few exceptions. Jacqueline Bouvier Hardy, a victim of domestic violence, was killed on the street March 20 by Kenneth Knight. Knight was killed later that day by police after he held a 3-year-old boy hostage. Stephen O'Neal Wattley II was killed Feb. 20 and an unidentified man was killed Saturday in police action shootings. David A. Thornsley died March 11 from a gunshot he received in 1980. Police do not know the motive in the case of Ryan Dwayne Turner, the first shooting victim of the year. They are also uncertain in the case of Montez Antonio Brooks.
"The common denominator is drugs, gangs and guns," York said.
York is proud, rightly, of the department's Crisis Intervention Team, which includes specially trained officers who help people with mental illnesses, as well as the department's protocols for dealing with domestic violence situations. He thinks those efforts have affected the dynamic of local homicides.
"Now we're focused on these gangs or cliques," he said. "We're dealing with these young African-American – primarily – kids. It's very tough on the families; it's tough on the community and sometimes very innocent victims as well."
The Fort Wayne Police Department put together a task force, with the involvement of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and the FBI, to address gang activity. York describes the strategy as surgical attacks rather than broad sweeps.
"We've really had some good information come our way because people are just really weary of the violence," York said. "We are not talking about a large number of young people involved in this lifestyle. It's a relatively small group that is very violent, very irresponsible and, obviously, armed. We are not talking about a lot of people, but they are doing a lot of harm."
The Fort Wayne Urban League's response to the gun violence was to sponsor a series of community meetings to gather ideas from residents and develop a plan for addressing the issue.
"People are starting to realize that just not doing anything is dangerous," York said. "That's what allowed those people involved in the Hugh Street (see map, No. 12) shooting to go down there in broad daylight. It's the intimidation factor. These are just thugs using the intimidation factor, and people can't live like that."