The worst mass shooting in Lakeland’s history took place Monday afternoon on North Iowa Avenue between Plum Street and Memorial Boulevard, leaving 10 men — ages 20 to 35 — injured, two of them critically. No one died.
Police Chief Sam Taylor said it happened at 3:43 p.m., when a dark-blue, four-door Nissan sedan with a temporary paper tag slowed down on North Iowa and four masked men fired weapons from the windows of the still-moving vehicle toward both sides of the street.
Two of the men who were shot suffered critical injuries, one in the abdomen and the other in the jaw, Taylor said at a Monday evening news conference. The other injuries were considered non-life-threatening, he added.
The location is one block east of the Polk County Tax Collector’s Massachusetts Avenue office and one block south of Memorial Boulevard in Lakeland’s Midtown section, an area Taylor said has been well-known to police for many years because of drugs and prostitution.
A school bus with children from Carlton Palmore Elementary School had let students off within 30 seconds to one minute before the shooting occurred.
Tina Smith, 46, said she and her 7- and 9-year-old children were walking to their apartment when the shooting happened. She shared an audio recording of her talking with one of her children when gunfire erupts in the background. The sound of uninterrupted shooting is heard for six seconds – making the recording sound like static.
“I have never worked an event where this many people have been shot at one time,” said Taylor, who begins his 35th year at Lakeland Police Department on Wednesday. “It actually saddens me to some extent that, you know, we consider ourselves to be a small town, some situated between Tampa and Orlando. And when stuff like this happens, you know, it just kind of hits home with me a little bit that maybe we’re not a small town anymore. It actually is pretty sad.”
While Taylor said he does not believe there is a drug war taking place in Lakeland, he said at least some of the people who were shot were meant to be hit.
“We have reason to believe this was a targeted event, that it was not a random act,” Taylor said. “We did locate a (felony) quantity of marijuana at the scene, which would indicate that, obviously, there were some narcotics sales or sales of marijuana going on there at the time. Whether that’s significant or related to this, that’s unknown right now.”
Taylor said men were sitting or standing in yards or on porches of homes on both sides of North Iowa Avenue when the gunfire began. He said some of the men shot had minor injuries from ricocheting bullets.
Smith said she started hearing people yelling, “I’m hit, I’m hit.” One of the victims asked her for help.
“A young man came running around the side of the building right here and said he’d been hit,” Smith said. “I told him I’d call for help. But I closed the door because I didn’t know who they were shooting at, who was being chased. I closed the door and had my kids get down on the floor and called for help.”
Taylor said police arrived within one minute of the first phone calls and responding officers found three of the victims still on the scene; they were transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, just a few blocks north. Other victims were taken to the hospital in private vehicles, he said.
A shotgun was found in plain sight in one of those vehicles and was confiscated.
Taylor said when the shooting was over, the Nissan sedan left at a high rate of speed northbound on Iowa Avenue and turned east onto Memorial Boulevard.
“We are actively searching for that vehicle,” Taylor said, adding that the general public is not in danger. “We don’t we don’t believe there’s any reason that the public would need to be concerned right now. We think that the individuals in a car shot at who they wanted to shoot. It was an intentional act. It certainly wasn’t a random just to drive-by shooting. And like I say, things like this just don’t happen to Lakeland, but today it did this evening, which is disappointing.”
Monday afternoon and evening, LPD had about two dozen uniformed patrol officers and about 15 detectives on the scene. Following his press conference, Iowa Avenue was still blocked off, with numbered markers showing the spots where shell casings were located and detectives were seen looking through materials in one front yard.
Taylor said police have found the spent shell casings from a .223 rifle and a nine-millimeter handgun.
Taylor called the neighborhood one that is challenged, with a number of rental properties, old, unkempt homes and apartments, and aging duplexes. “It’s an area that we’ve paid quite a quite a lot of attention to over the past few years,” Taylor said. “It’s a tough neighborhood.”
Northeast Lakeland’s patrol zones C and D saw 30.99% of all of LPD’s 78,000 calls in 2021. Police Department spokeswoman Robin Tillett said in 2021, the number for the Northeast district is artificially inflated by a high number of calls coming when crime and injury victims are taken to Lakeland Regional Health and their reports are taken there.
The area of the shooting, Zone D, had the highest number of calls, with 12,453 – more than 19%.
Smith said her children are dealing with the after-effects of the shooting.
“They’re really shook up right now,” Smith said. “I just stay prayed up and, you know, pray for the neighborhood and our own and our families, that we always stay safe. You know, because it’s definitely a little bit dangerous over here sometimes, you know, they don’t come outside and play. But obviously now even during the daytime it’s not safe anymore, because this was within 30 seconds of getting off the school bus. They had no regard for anybody.”
Lakeland police, in connection with Heartland Crime Stoppers Florida, are offering a $5,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the identification and arrest of the suspects involved.
To remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward, contact Heartland Crime Stoppers Florida:
- Call 1-800-226 TIPS (8477)
- From your cell phone, dial **TIPS
- Visit the website www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com and click on “Submit A Tip”
- Download the free “P3tips” app on your smartphone or tablet.
Tipsters will always remain anonymous when sending a tip through Crime Stoppers.
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