FORT PIERCE— If you saw something, say something.
That’s the plea the St. Lucie County Sherriff’s Office, Fort Pierce Police Department and City Commission are stressing to the public just one day after eight people were shot at Ilous Ellis Park following a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
The incident is believed to be the result of a gang dispute, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The tragedy left a 29-year-old woman dead and four others injured, either trampled or hit by a car while fleeing the chaos, according to St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Hester.
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Those hurt trying to leave the event that attracted more than 1,000 people sustained non life-threatening injuries, Hester said. The other seven who were shot are expected to recover, he added.
“A day of greatness was yesterday, and it turned into a situation of horror for our beautiful city and also for our citizens,” Fort Pierce Police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney told city commissioners Tuesday. “…We want our citizens to know that we’re fighting for the answers and we’re fighting to bring justice to the people that were victimized by this.”
Hester urged the public to come forward with any information that could lead to arrests while also reassuring the community that the Sheriff’s Office can protect witnesses who speak up.
Those with details about the mass shooting are encouraged to call 772-462-3230 or Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-800-273-TIPS.
“We always talk about how we want to change. We want our community to be greater than what it is,” City Manager Nick Mimms said. “Then our community has to step up right now and we have to come together and identify the folks that perpetrated this crime.”
Ensuring mental health resources, such as counseling, are provided to children and adults who may be traumatized because of the shooting was another priority commissioners highlighted Tuesday.
In response, victim advocates have been sent into St. Lucie Public Schools, Hobley-Burney said.
Mimms and commissioners Arnold Gaines and Curtis Johnson Jr. attended the event.
Local leaders described it as the end of a great week of festivities honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Many kids were seen with smiles across their faces, said newly elected Commissioner Michael Broderick, who attended a nearby parade with other elected officials before the shooting occurred.
“The people who shot that day, they knew children were there. They knew there were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters there,” Hobley-Burney said…They saw it all and they didn’t care. And what I’m saying is that sometimes we as a people have to take back our neighborhood and say, enough is enough.”
Mayor Linda Hudson and other commissioners expressed frustrations that the mass shooting has now painted Fort Pierce in a negative light, despite progress made in recent years to revitalize communities historically perceived as crime-ridden.
“We’re not going to tolerate this,” Hudson said. “We had a beautiful week (until the shooting) and we have come far in terms of making this one Fort Pierce.”