Island Reacts To The Gunfire

WHEELING — A few Wheeling Island residents said Thursday they don’t plan to let reports of gunfire run them out of their neighborhood.

Wheeling police responded to a report of shots being fired at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Island. They found one 9 mm shell casing at 11:08 p.m. in the 200 block of South Penn Street. At 10:40 a.m. Thursday, two additional casings were found at the same location.

The report did not indicate anyone was injured, and officers took statements from several witnesses. A “half-full” and “still cold” 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor found in the area was collected as evidence.

While sitting on his porch Thursday evening, Island resident Earl Davis said he had learned about the gunfire reports but hadn’t personally heard any shots himself. A retired Columbus, Ohio, police officer, Davis said he wasn’t going to let such mischief bother him.

“A wise person once told me even if there are problems, you don’t quit living and hide in your house,” he said.

Four other residents, all of whom declined to give their names, said they also were not too concerned about the gunfire reports. One woman noted she was outside at the time of the 10:30 p.m. shooting report but heard nothing. She said she saw several officers looking for shell casings.

“I’m not scared of walking on the Island. I’ll keep on walking,” she said.

The woman’s friend noted she “feels safe to a certain extent.”

“The people out here we know. It’s not like they’re out-of-town strangers,” the woman said.

A man out for an evening walk said most residents are “keeping an eye out” for suspicious behavior.

“It’s safe over here. Every once in awhile you get a bad apple,” he said, motioning toward a building he described as a “crack house.”

Another resident doing some porch sitting said he has lived on the Island for 25 years.

“The Island is still nice. I still like it. I would never move unless I went to Florida. … We aren’t going to be run out by anybody,” he said.

Davis noted before he retired from the Columbus police force in 1988, he worked in Linden, which he described as one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. The department, he said, divided the city into police districts. Each district had five, one-man cruisers and a separate two-man vehicle that took a variety of calls and picked up bodies from various incidents, he said.

“I’ve been stabbed several times and I had to kill people,” he said of his time on the force.

But Davis said he and his fellow officers always made time to talk to people on the streets, in restaurants and coffee shops.

“We would park our cruiser and walk a couple blocks and talk to people. They’re just normal people, and that’s how you treat people,” Davis said.

Davis noted he was glad to be back in Wheeling. He grew up on a farm in the Dallas Pike area that he sold before moving to Columbus.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” Davis said of the shootings. “I know where the answer is — it’s there in the police department.”

In a separate police report, officers collected 16 .22-caliber bullets at noon Wednesday near the Salvation Army on 16th Street. Police were advised of the ammunition by a man who apparently had just passed through the area. The bullets were collected as evidence, and no additional information was included in the report.

Wheeling police Chief Kevin Gessler and Sgt. John Burke could not be reached Thursday for comment on either investigation. The report of shots fired Wednesday on Wheeling Island is the second such report in less that two weeks.

On March 31, shots fired on North Wabash Street sent people fleeing throughout the area. No arrest has been made in that investigation, but police do have “persons of interest.” A witness told police those shots were fired by a man who was attacked, kicked and beaten by a number of people. That witness, however, was unable to provide police with any names.

City police also are investigating a March 11 shooting in East Wheeling in which a bullet was fired into a city police cruiser. That gunshot came within in inches of the head long-time city Officer Rusty Jewell. A $5,000 reward is being offered by the Wheeling Police Department for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who fired that shot.