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'You want to leave St. Louis': Residents fearful over rise in gun crimes as leaders push for change

Residents say they are fearful because of the gun violence and crimes happening in their community. City leaders say "violence interrupters" could help

ST. LOUIS — "For this to happen in your hometown, it's just a shame. You don't feel safe anymore," said a concerned woman, who's a resident and business manager in the Walnut Park West neighborhood in north St. Louis.

It's where police say Wednesday night nearly 100 gunshots rang out during a shootout between two groups outside a gas station near Goodfellow Boulevard and Interstate 70.

Police said the groups initially kept firing at each other from two vehicles and within moments, another man on a sidewalk started shooting.

Two officers in an unmarked car also were targeted.

Nobody was hurt.

Police arrested a suspect, whom they say fired at the officers.

Credit: St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
An unmarked SLMPD vehicle was damaged in a shooting involving a suspect near Goodfellow Boulevard and Sherry Avenue.

"You want to move. You want to leave St. Louis. You want to run after hearing all that," said the concerned woman, who didn't want her name released.

"A lot of people are scared to talk about it. A lot of people are scared to admit that there's a problem," she added.

A serious crime "problem" residents, city leaders and police say has gotten worse.

City leaders said hot spots — areas that have consistently high gun violence — have increased in the northside neighborhood in the last two years.

"I can tell you that gunfire Wednesday was just horrible. I can't believe all that shooting went on, and, I still find it hard to believe that they were even shooting at the police officers," said Navy veteran Vince Taylor, who's lived in the Walnut Park West neighborhood for more than 60 years.

Taylor said young outsiders are constantly committing the crimes.

"They are shooting from their cars, on gas station parking lots, just everywhere. They are youthful residents that have no concerns for firearms and it's scary," Taylor said.

"That tells me we have a long way to go," said Lewis Reed, the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

City leaders said the newly formed Cure Violence intervention program, which addresses violence as a public health issue, has curbed crime through its three sites in the Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights area, and parts of Walnut Park in north city and in Dutchtown on the city's south side.

Now, more than ever, Reed said the city needs to expand the program and put so-called "violence interrupters" in the Walnut Park West neighborhood and across the city.

The violence interrupters are former felons, drug dealers and gang members, who have turned their lives around and are now fighting against crime.

Organizers said the Chicago-based program has been successful in several cities including Baltimore, Milwaukee and New York City.

"That's gonna help our youth. That's gonna help our people who live in our neighborhoods and communities to be able to live without fear. We will get the federal funding through the American Recovery Act and I plan to introduce the bill in mid-July, and hopefully if it passes then the Cure Violence program could expand to Walnut Park West by early fall," Reed said.

"I'm all for anything that's going to address the issue and improve the situation. I'm hoping for a change," said a concerned neighbor.