ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Just 24 hours after a 14-year-old boy was shot and killed in Orange County, a toddler was shot in the head and his life was cut short, Sheriff John Mina said. He says the community lost these young lives because of the increasing gang violence in the county and the young members that continue to join them.
“Those were just two of the four drive-by shootings that have happened within this past week,” Mina said. “There are some very violent gangs here at work in Orange County. They’re heavily armed and not afraid to use violence and don’t think twice about who they kill."
The sheriff took to the podium Wednesday in a news briefing to address the recent death of 3-year-old Daquane James Felix Jr.
Gunfire went off Tuesday night by the 4400 block of Drexel Avenue near North Lane. Authorities said a gang was targeting someone who either lives or frequents the home where Felix was in. Nine people were in the home, but only the child was shot.
The sheriff said this was one of many retaliatory attacks from gangs since July. He said the issue is that these gangs are now involving younger people and putting innocent lives in jeopardy.
“So in the case of Joshua Atkinson, who was not involved in gang activity, his family said don’t hang out with those boys,” Mina said about the shooting death of the 14-year-old. “But he went anyway, and now he’s dead. That is an incredibly tragic and tough lesson for all parents that trust your instincts.”
Atkinson was shot and killed Monday in what appeared to be a drive-by shooting while outside a home along Glendale Road in Pine Hills. A 15-year-old was also badly hurt and rushed to the hospital. Authorities said he was critical but in stable condition as of Wednesday.
“These shootings are all gang-related," Joseph Covelli, OCSO’s sergeant of homicide said. “They all have something in common, and that’s the guns, the guns and almost kids with guns.”
Authorities said much of this violence stems from two rival gangs within the county: 438 and Army Gang. Their investigation revealed that much of it comes from social media taunts or one party feeling that they’re not being respected by the other, resulting in an endless cycle of gun violence with the community consistently caught in the crossfire.
“One of the Army Gang members was at the daycare center picking up his children,” Sgt. Paul Volkerson said. “As he exited the daycare center, was loading his kids in the backseat of his car, a drive-by shooting was conducted where his car was struck several times. Several rounds penetrated the car with his small children inside the car as he was loading them in. Some of the rounds missed his car, struck the daycare center and went through the walls of the daycare center. This daycare center is full of innocent children,” Volkerson said.
Mina said his office decided to be more transparent with the community as victims are not cooperating and the shootings have been consistent.
Authorities mentioned at least nine drive-by shootings during the news conference they are actively investigating that they suspect or have already tied to gang activity. Mina said victims are often not cooperative nor do eyewitnesses come forward.
He said many community members know the gang members, see them with guns and know when something doesn’t feel right. He’s asking that at minimum, they report what they know anonymously.
“The message to our community: We can’t do this alone,” Mina said. “Or else these retaliation shootings are can continue to happen."