June 23, 2024

Dana pulled a comb from a curbside trash can and dropped a pair of nail clippers on the sidewalk. She’s been living on the streets of South Akron since her firstborn child, who was 17, died in a drive-by shooting a half-mile away on Lovers Lane in April 2021.

The 37-year-old mother has five other kids living with their grandma.

“I don’t be around my kids as much as I should because of my grief,” she said. “And I don’t like them to see me going crazy.”

Dana, who lives on the streets in South Akron, talks about losing her 17-year-old son who was shot and killed in April 2021.

Dana, who lives on the streets in South Akron, talks about losing her 17-year-old son who was shot and killed in April 2021.

On a nearby porch, a woman said she lost a best friend to gun violence a month after Dana’s son was killed. Across the street behind a chain-link fence, a man too afraid to give his name pointed to a scar where a bullet — fired by his nephew but intended for someone else — grazed his head. That nephew killed someone the next year.

“Now he’s in prison for the rest of his life, as far as I know,” the man said.

Guided by police reports and 911 calls that point to the most frequent neighborhoods for shootings, Beacon Journal reporters and photographers knocked on doors and talked about gun violence on front porches to better understand life set to the soundtrack of gunshots.

Using U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, reporters and photographers mapped the per capita concentrations of reported gunfire and canvassed the five highest-impact city blocks in South Akron, East Akron, Sherbondy Hill, Summit Lake and West Akron. These five neighborhoods include 4% of Akron homes and residents but 13% of the city’s reported shootings.

Residents were offered anonymity to speak candidly about the violence, including active murder investigations and the source of guns in their neighborhoods. Only first names given are used in this story.

Sherbondy Hill

Since 2019, and increasingly so since the pandemic, there’s been one report of gunfire for every six people living around Lane Field in Akron’s Sherbondy Hill neighborhood.

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On a rented scooter, Lance, 18, rolled down a path a few feet from the playground where a 7-year-old and 19-year-old were wounded a couple of Sundays earlier in a shooting during a pee wee football game.

“I’m passing from one neighborhood to the next,” he said, explaining the need for the handgun tucked in his shorts. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

“I always thought it was OK to have a gun around for protection,” he continued. “But … I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

Asked why anyone his age would want to pull the trigger, he commented: “I think it’s the music. Everybody wanna be like the rappers. They wanna do what the rappers are saying in the songs, thinking it’s cool. It’s really not.”

In YouTube videos produced by Akron rap groups, members brag about making mothers cry by killing their sons. A recent lyric appears to take credit for a fatal shooting on I-77. Still images on social media also appear to include brazen criminal evidence — youths lionizing dead friends with shirts carrying their faces and the names of people they supposedly killed.

Lance said he’s never pulled or used his gun on anyone. He’s careful, always checking with his “guys” for intel on people and places to avoid. And he’s admittedly “antisocial,” which he said keeps him away from potentially volatile gatherings.

Carol, a 61-year-old Sherbondy Hill resident, sat in her garage with her mother. She said she “always hears gunshots. And they always sound like they’re in my front or backyard, but they could be over across the park.

Carol says she is scared to be in crowds because of gun violence in her Sherbondy Hill neighborhood in Akron.

Carol says she is scared to be in crowds because of gun violence in her Sherbondy Hill neighborhood in Akron.

“I mean, a guy was killed right here on the street maybe three years ago,” she said of a man who ran into a neighbor’s fence after being shot and had to cut back across her driveway, leaving a blood smear across a car.

“But it wasn’t in broad daylight,” Carol said of that killing while thinking about bullets sprayed at vigils, birthday parties, football games and even a Juneteenth celebration within the past few years. “I am scared to be in a crowd now. I don’t want to be around any young people, because you don’t know who’s mad at who.”

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“If you’ve paid attention,” said her neighbor Lance, a lifelong Akron resident and deacon at Antioch Baptist Church near Lane Field, “every time you get a large gathering, whether it be a parade or whatever, it’s guns. That’s how they operate.”

The deacon said violence has always been part of the community.

Lance, a 59-year-old a deacon at Antioch Baptist Church, says, "Every time you get a large gathering ... it's guns."

Lance, a 59-year-old a deacon at Antioch Baptist Church, says, “Every time you get a large gathering … it’s guns.”

Carol’s husband, William, a retired youth detention counselor, grew up on Rhodes Avenue where his family lost their home to the ill-conceived Akron Innerbelt project. Fifteen years ago, most homicides didn’t involve guns. Disputes more often ended with black eyes and bloody lips, not body bags, said William, whose observation is supported by death certificate data.

But William, 69, doesn’t feel personally threatened by the shootings. He said the violence feels targeted or retaliatory, though innocent bystanders do get caught in the crossfire.

William says most of the shootings in his Sherbondy Hill neighborhood in Akron are targeted or retaliatory, though innocent bystanders do get caught in the crossfire.

William says most of the shootings in his Sherbondy Hill neighborhood in Akron are targeted or retaliatory, though innocent bystanders do get caught in the crossfire.

“Everyone who carries a backpack ain’t got books in them. You gotta respect the element,” he said, because “every 12-year-old around here can tell you where to get a gun.”

East Akron

In East Akron, an elderly man sat on his porch with a rifle scope at his side so he could survey the carnage.

He doesn’t own a gun because he’s certain he would use it, maybe on that person who stole the snowblower off his front porch recently. On foot, he followed the burglar, who loaded the snowblower into a van, turned to smile and then drove away.

“If I had a gun in my hand, I would have shot him dead. I could have been in jail. So, I let him go. The snowblower didn’t even work,” the man said, able to laugh about it now.

The man and his wife have lived in their home for 45 years. They withheld their names because “snitches get stitches.”

Reading her Bible one night, the wife looked up to the sound of scraping against the pavement. Out the window, she saw a shadow leaving their porch with their bag of de-icing salt.

Some nights, the man slouches in the driver’s seat of his car parked on the street “just watching the neighborhood.” The couple shared memories of the muzzle flashes they’re seeing with increasing frequency.

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Their oldest memory from about 15 years ago includes hearing about a dozen shots in the middle of the day. The bullets flew their direction, leaving holes in a neighbor’s house as a man cut through backyards to escape a shooter chasing him on foot down the street.

A couple of years later, the husband ran outside to the sound of a “big bam.”

“There’s this red SUV that ran into that telephone pole. And there was this guy in there slumped over,” he said. “So, we called the paramedics. And when they opened the doors, they pulled this guy out. And the police officer ripped his shirt open. He had three bullet holes.”

Councilwoman Tara Mosley said she was in the neighborhood when the shooting happened in 2019.

She joined the Beacon Journal on a drizzling Thursday morning last month to talk with random residents in this high-crime corner of her neighborhood. Mosley was canvassing for reelection in 2019 when she left a church parking lot on foot and stopped in her tracks.

“They started shooting, came around the corner in their cars,” she said. “We ended up going in between the houses. It was like four of us, and we just stood there. And I was like: ‘Oh, it’s over. We’re no longer canvassing. Let’s go.’ ”

Akron Councilwoman Tara Mosley listens as Stephanie describes hearing gunfire in her neighborhood as they talk on the front porch of her home in East Akron.

Akron Councilwoman Tara Mosley listens as Stephanie describes hearing gunfire in her neighborhood as they talk on the front porch of her home in East Akron.

On another porch, Mosley and Stephanie, a 72-year-old woman who grew up in North Akron and moved to her new home in East Akron five years ago, talked about the old days when families ate dinner together, when it was the duty of neighbors to scold misbehaving children in the neighborhood, when kids were afraid the branch they got to receive their whipping wasn’t thick enough by their parents’ standards.

“And I’m afraid to speak to these kids. You can’t say nothing to them,” Stephanie said of how times have changed for the worse. “And the parents don’t chastise them. And they’re jumping on teachers. What can I say? You know? I got my 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren to raise. And I can’t be raising yours if you ain’t doing it. You know? I think that’s the kind of attitude that people have — afraid to speak to these kids now. And I don’t blame them.”

“They’re angry,” Mosley said of the youths. “And as a community, when we talk about trauma, we gotta figure out what the root issue is.”

South Akron

In less than a half-hour on a Sunday last month, the Beacon Journal spoke with two women who lost loved ones to gun violence and a man shot in the head by his nephew, who’s now in prison for life for killing someone else, before leaving the future scene of a murder — all on a 100-foot stretch of Beardsley Street.

The map of reported gunshots peppered this intersection at Baird Street with dots.

“You hear it almost every night, if not every night. It’s so usual [that] people around here just look,” said Lance, 36. “I’m running.”

Lance, a resident of South Akron, talks about hearing gunfire almost daily in his neighborhood.

Lance, a resident of South Akron, talks about hearing gunfire almost daily in his neighborhood.

Just the other day, Lance said a 12-year-old flashed a gun at him. The crowd of kids disappeared down the street, rounds were fired and the kids scattered through the South Akron neighborhood just south of I-76.

“What is the world coming to?” Lance thought.

“Twenty years ago … ,” he said of his childhood growing up in this neighborhood, “you had fights and little shootings here and there, but it wasn’t like it is today — at all.”

He said city officials “are more worried about these abandoned houses around here than finding people who shoot people. I don’t understand that.”

But Lance can’t say for certain he would say something if he saw something. He might help solve a crime — or die if the shooter finds him first. “It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

“It’s terrible. It’s terrible. The neighborhood is terrible,” said Dana, the mother of six who lost her firstborn child to gun violence in 2021. “I just feel like the police don’t care no more, so people don’t care around here.”

Dana’s son, 17-year-old Davieon, was killed in a drive-by shooting that seriously injured another teenage boy. The more than 50 rounds fired from an assault rifle missed a third person. Only the driver, Zepherlean Sibley, 19, who admitted to her role in the shooting, is in prison. Murder charges were dropped or not approved by a grand jury for the two alleged shooters in the car, including one who police caught months later fleeing another fatal shooting at a cemetery.

Defense attorney Pat Summers comforts his client Zepherlean Sibley as her father addresses the court during sentencing before Judge Joy Malek Oldfield on Monday, May 16, 2022, in Akron.

Defense attorney Pat Summers comforts his client Zepherlean Sibley as her father addresses the court during sentencing before Judge Joy Malek Oldfield on Monday, May 16, 2022, in Akron.

“Three different houses had it on tape, and they let them walk free. The only one that did time was the driver, the girl. But the two shooters, the two young men, yeah, they walked,” Dana said.

“I have lost my trust in the system. That was my firstborn. I had six kids. And their father was murdered right after that in a racist situation in West Virginia.”

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Attorney Pat Summers, who represented Sibley, said he was never told why charges were dismissed or the grand jury declined to indict the two alleged shooters.

Summers said his client helped investigators. “She cooperated to some extent. That’s all I can say.”

Summit Lake

Increasing incidences of gun violence has plagued the Summit Lake community for the past few years.

Some residents, like Allison, who has lived in this community her entire life, walk the towpath that surrounds the lake, knowing that every stroll may be their last.

“It seems like I am always hearing stories about gun violence here in Summit Lake,” Allison said. “I walk and bike the towpath trail frequently and I will always have people telling me that I need to be careful walking around the lake because people are shooting. I have to be careful, you know, because I am a senior with grandchildren. Safety is key.”

Allison, a lifelong resident of Akron's Summit Lake neighborhood, says she knows she needs to be careful walking around the lake "because people are shooting."

Allison, a lifelong resident of Akron’s Summit Lake neighborhood, says she knows she needs to be careful walking around the lake “because people are shooting.”

Other residents, including Talena, who has lived in Summit Lake with her husband and children for a little over a year, fear the prevalence of gun violence in her community. She said she and her family have been affected by gun violence and she doesn’t feel safe.

“We’ve heard gunshots a little over 10 times in the year that myself, my husband and my five children have lived here,” she said. “I don’t feel safe and I fear for my children. Unfortunately, it’s not like we can just get up and move so we are all just dealing with the situation. I just hope no harm comes to my children; I don’t want to bury any of my kids.”

Summit Lake resident Carlin, 26, says that data showing Summit Lake is one of Akron’s neighborhoods with the most reports of shots fired since 2019 rings true.

“Daytime, nighttime, it doesn’t matter. Whatever time of the day, you’ll always hear gunshots. There’s been times where I’m just walking down the street and I’ll hear gunshots,” Carlin said as he was shopping at the Summit Lake farmers market with his family on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. “Just the other day, I was walking with my little cousin around the lake and the whole time I’m looking around just seeing if people are arguing because you know that can escalate into gun violence.”

Carlin, 26, a resident of the Summit Lake neighborhood, talks about his experiences with gun violence as he shops at a farmers market. "Daytime, nighttime, it doesn't matter. Whatever time of the day, you'll always hear gunshots," he says.

Carlin, 26, a resident of the Summit Lake neighborhood, talks about his experiences with gun violence as he shops at a farmers market. “Daytime, nighttime, it doesn’t matter. Whatever time of the day, you’ll always hear gunshots,” he says.

Gunshots are seemingly a part of everyday life in the community, leaving some feeling numb to reports of gun violence.

“Gunshots seem to happen so often that when a shooting incident happens, sometimes it’s hard to have a reaction,” said one resident who has lived in the community for nine years. “You become so desensitized to hearing about these stories because it just seems so normal around here.”

She said the gun violence hasn’t affected her quality of life.

She doesn’t fear guns, she said, but she is aware of their prevalence throughout Summit Lake. And she has thoughts about being randomly shot when she’s out in certain places.

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Mike, a Summit Lake convenience store owner who has been in the neighborhood for five years, also spoke to the high volume of gunfire that he hears in the neighborhood.

“There’s so many gunshots throughout the day here that it is incredible that the police are not catching these guys. It’s happening way too often,” Mike said as he stood outside his store. “I never feel like I am in danger because my life is in God’s hands. The gun violence doesn’t scare me but the residents are so used to it now and it doesn’t even scare them anymore either.”

Mike, the owner of a convenience store in Akron's Summit Lake neighborhood, says he often hears gunshots in the neighborhood throughout the day.

Mike, the owner of a convenience store in Akron’s Summit Lake neighborhood, says he often hears gunshots in the neighborhood throughout the day.

He said he doesn’t allow visitors to loiter around the store because that is when the trouble starts.

“Buy your stuff and go. Don’t hang out. You’re not going to sell drugs here, none of that. If other stores around me would learn that, there would be less problems around here, I feel,” Mike said. “There’s another store around here that has seen four or five people shot in their parking lot in the past year. You let the drug dealers hang out in front of your store then you are going to have gun violence.”

Several blocks away from Mike’s convenience story, Sandy has lived in Summit Lake for more than 40 years.

She said she feels safe in the neighborhood but keeps mainly to herself and doesn’t venture over to neighbors’ houses or take many walks in the neighborhood. She hears about many more incidents than years ago when she first moved there in the 1980s.

Sandy moved to the Summit Lake area she says many of her neighbors are buying guns to protect themselves.

Sandy moved to the Summit Lake area she says many of her neighbors are buying guns to protect themselves.

“I’m sure plenty of my neighbors own guns because on New Year’s it sounds like they’ve declared war,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of people on this street own guns but that is because of the need for protection. I know there used to be a gang of little boys who broke into houses around here, so now my neighbors were buying guns to protect themselves.”

West Akron

Ron has owned a barbershop on Copley Road in West Akron for more than 20 years.

When he heard that West Akron was one of the five neighborhoods with the most reports of shots fired since the beginning of 2019, he wasn’t surprised.

“I always hear stories from the customers or see stories on social media about how common gun violence is in West Akron and especially in this predominantly Black area of the neighborhood,” Ron said. “I’ve been cutting hair on Copley Road for 28 years now and I’ve noticed a big change in gun violence incidents over the years. West Akron used to be a place where you can raise kids, but now you don’t know what’s going to happen, when something’s going to happen or why, and it’s just safer to be indoors.”

Ron, a barbershop owner in West Akron for more than 20 years, says he's noticed an increase in gun violence in the neighborhood in recent years.

Ron, a barbershop owner in West Akron for more than 20 years, says he’s noticed an increase in gun violence in the neighborhood in recent years.

Ron said the frequency of gun incidents in the area has increased in the last decade.

“It used to be just at night that you would hear gunshots around here and it would only happen every once in a while. I don’t know what’s changed this past decade but now you hear gunshots at all hours of the day, and these gunshots are happening way more frequently as well,” Ron said. “It used to feel like news because it would happen every few weeks but it just seems like it happens so often now that we are numb to it, like it’s just another day.”

Ron said most of his customers have a gun and often carry them while getting their haircuts — not because they don’t feel safe at the barbershop but for afterward when they have to venture out into the surrounding area. He said he, too, has a permit for a gun, and often works with it as a safety precaution.

“It’s better to have it than to not have it, and while I personally don’t feel threatened while I’m at work, you just never know,” Ron said.

Jack preaches at the Prince of Peace Baptist Church, and has worked in West Akron for decades. He said gun violence affected him early in life when a friend who graduated with him from Buchtel High School was killed while leaving a club.

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“The first time in my life that I lost a peer, I was probably about 19 or 20 years old. I had just graduated Buchtel and I was a student at the University of Akron. Prescott graduated with us and he was shot and killed that night, not because he was a drug dealer or a thug, but he was one of the coolest guys that I ever knew,” he said while sitting in his office. “He was very meek-mannered and shy, and didn’t hurt anyone. His death hurt not just me, but our entire graduating class.”

Jack, a pastor at Prince of Peace Baptist Church, says he had his first personal experience with gun violence when a fellow graduate from Buchtel High School was fatally shot while leaving a club. "He was very meek-mannered and shy, and didn't hurt anyone," Jack recalls. "His death hurt not just me, but our entire graduating class."

Jack, a pastor at Prince of Peace Baptist Church, says he had his first personal experience with gun violence when a fellow graduate from Buchtel High School was fatally shot while leaving a club. “He was very meek-mannered and shy, and didn’t hurt anyone,” Jack recalls. “His death hurt not just me, but our entire graduating class.”

Jack said he’s celebrating his 25-year reunion next month, but many of his classmates won’t be there because they are dead.

“When we talk about a reunion, it is bittersweet because, while it is great to come together, so many of us can’t be there. So many people are gone due in part to gun violence, which is a major problem in our community,” he said.  “Gun violence is ravaging our community. It happens way too often — more often than we can keep up with.”

Gun violence happens way more frequently and with such an intensity that it’s disturbing to him and many members of his congregation.

“I’m talking to 12- and 13-year-olds who have lost peers now, instead of the young adults in years past who dealt with gun violence,” he said. “It just seems like more and more children have access to these guns and are shooting them and I say the intensity has risen with these gun violence incidents because these kids aren’t just using handguns they are using assault rifles.”

One longtime church member, Evelyn, shared how her son was shot leaving a family party at her niece’s house on Labor Day weekend in 2021.

“As he was leaving and driving away, he said he heard what sounded like fireworks and thought they were shooting fireworks for the holidays and he thought they sounded really close,” she recalled. “He looked in the rearview mirror and saw a group of kids shooting and discovered that they were shooting at his car.”

Evelyn shows where her son was hit two years ago during a barrage of more than 60 shots fired at his car in West Akron after he left a family gathering.

Evelyn shows where her son was hit two years ago during a barrage of more than 60 shots fired at his car in West Akron after he left a family gathering.

Evelyn said her son drove away as fast as he could, turning the corner on two wheels and praying that none of the bullets would meet their mark.

“He put his arm up to protect his face and one of the bullets went through his arm, and if he didn’t put his arm up, the bullet would have gone right through his head,” she said. “These kids were chasing him and my son didn’t know who they were, and they were just shooting. Police officers would later say 60 bullets went through the car; they actually stopped counting at 60 bullets so who knows how many shots actually hit my son’s vehicle.”

Evelyn said she became paranoid and anxious about venturing out to certain places within West Akron in the weeks and months following her child’s scrape with gun violence.

“I found myself in these convenience stores and other places in West Akron looking around and wondering if anyone was going to start shooting at me and it’s gotten to the point where you just don’t know — I don’t want to live in fear but I’ve turned to prayer and that has helped,” Evelyn said. “These kids just want to shoot their guns without thinking of any consequences and they don’t realize that they are just altering the lives of not only the victims, obviously, but their families and loved ones as well.”

Reach reporters Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792 and Anthony Thompson at ajthompson@gannett.com or on Twitter, @athompsonABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Residents share stories of gun violence in 5 Akron neighborhoods

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