Mobile saw huge spike in shootings last year – but pace has slowed somewhat in 2022

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 7:11 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - It’s no secret that the city is in the midst of a wave of violence, but new statistics show just how violent last year was.

Mobile police responded to 279 shootings, a 23 percent spike after a mostly flat trend the previous two years.

Shayne Turner nearly became a murder statistic last September. He was coming home from getting frozen yoghurt with his wife and two daughters when two men opened fire as he turned on to Cottage Hill Road.

“I just started hearing glass flying and breaking,” he said. “Had no idea until the car next to me showed two firearms pointed out the window at me. I saw the muzzle flash and they just kept shooting.”

Murders tend to get an outsized share of attention from media and the public. But for every victim who dies from gunshots, many more suffer debilitating injuries. Turner said he spent more than two months in the hospital with a fractured rib cage, a broken vertebrae and punctured lung. He said he lost 4 of his 5 liters of blood and that doctors had to remove his spleen and one of his kidneys.

“I’m still getting better,” he said. “Every week, a little bit of improvement. Got a long way to go still, but so far, so good, I guess.”

Turner said he did not know the shooters and that he has no enemies. Police have not made an arrest in the case.

It was a busy year in 2021– and not just for police. Those Mobile police shooting statistics do not include self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Mobile’s four hospitals and their affiliates collectively treated 510 gunshot patients, up from 458 the year before.

All that violence takes a toll on the doctors and nurses who treat the patients, said Dr. Ashley Williams, a trauma surgeon at the University of South Alabama Health System’s University Hospital, where most local gunshot victims end up.

“Despite it being the thing that I do every day, each time is very difficult,” she said. “And I feel like a broken record saying this, but it’s true. Every single time it’s the hardest part of my job is telling a mom or a parent or a loved one that despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to save their child – especially when we know it was preventable.”

Williams said no two gunshot patents are the same. Treating those wounds can be some of the most complicated in medicine. She said the first order of business is spotting and treating life-threatening injuries and then work down form there.

As challenging as the technical aspect can be, Williams said, treating gunshot victims also often is heart-wrenching.

“The patients that we’re seeing are younger and younger,” he said. “And I think that’s what makes it really difficult as a population to deal with.”

Mobile Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste acknowledged last year was bloody. But he noted that the 40 shootings so far this year are down from 46 over the same period last year.

“We finished in 2021 with a higher number than we had in 2020,” he said. “But so far, it looks like we’re on a trend to slow things down a little bit.”

The September shooting that critically wounded Turner miraculously did not hut anyone else in the car. But Turner says he woke up in the hospital with a breathing tube down his throat and did not know for days whether his family was dead or alive.

“That was one of the most terrifying things, just waking up and not knowing where my family is. … I had a tube in my mouth, so I couldn’t physically talk,” he said. “I was banging my hand on the on the hospital bed trying to get someone to come into the room.”

Turner said he eventually learned his family was OK but that because of COVID-19 restrictions, it was a week before he even could see his wife.

Turner’s wife, Emily Turner, said the gunmen fired almost two dozen rounds, hitting the car 11 times.

“They started from the trunk and did not stop until, I mean, they were passing us and in front of us and hanging out father shooting directly at the front of the car,” she said.

Added Shayne Turner: “It was over in a blink of an eye. It was a matter of seconds. But it felt like forever. I mean, time froze while it was happening.”

The Turners said they are exasperated by the violence that has gripped Mobile.

“You know, it is spreading,” Emily Turner said. “It’s going everywhere. It’s all over our county. It’s happening in Baldwin County.”

Shayne Turner said he is a gun advocate.

“I don’t believe guns should be banned or outlawed or vilified,” he said. “But I think that something needs to happen. I think the police need to go back to proactive instead of a reactionary type of service.”

Battiste said the Police Department is doing just that. He said the department has redeployed officers to focus on high-crime areas. Earlier this year, the city rolled out “Operation Echo Stop,” an overall strategy for reducing youth violence that includes technology and partnerships with the school system.

The city hired a youth violence prevention coordinator and is working with a contract to install devices designed to pick up the sound of gunfire for faster response. Battiste said he believes the longer-term measures will build on the violence reductions the city has seen the first two months of the year.

“I’m hoping it’s a sign of the times to come,” Battiste said.