Gunfire too common to raise alarm

March 5, 2008 8:11:11 PM PST
Gunfire happens enough around Lester Street that neighbors often don't bother to call police. Now residents are wondering whether the shots they heard last weekend are the ones that killed six people and critically wounded three other children. Police did not offer a motive in the slayings on Wednesday, two days after the grisly scene was found inside a small brick house in the community known as Binghampton, where low-income homes sit near cheap motels and junkyards.

"I did hear shooting, but I didn't know where it was. Sometimes guys get crazy and just shoot up in the air," said Marie Mackey, 33, who was visiting her mother's house a couple of blocks away Saturday night. "If I had known, I would have called."

Lt. Joe Scott, a top homicide detective, said the surviving children are witnesses and under police protection.

"Nobody will see those children," Scott said. "This is a sensitive investigation. We're keeping everything under the wraps right now."

Authorities identified the adult victims on Wednesday as Cecil Dotson, 30, who was renting the home; Hollis Seals, 33; Shindri Roberson, 20; and Marissa Rene Williams, 26. They declined to identify the children.

Police say that the attack happened between Saturday night and Monday evening and that five of those who died were shot and one child was stabbed. Investigators have ruled out a murder-suicide.

Some details trickled out from family and neighbors, who hope the extreme violence will push those with any tips to talk to police.

Nicole Dotson said her brother lived in the rental house with Williams, his girlfriend, their four children and a child of his from a previous relationship. The children were ages 9, 5, 4, 2 and 2 months, she said.

Police have not told the family which children survived, she said.

"We don't know who's in the hospital. We don't know who's alive. It's depressing," she said.

Police have refused to say whether the slayings could have been connected to Dotson, who had a violent criminal past.

Court and criminal records reviewed by The Associated Press showed Dotson was "known to have gang affiliations" when he joined in an attack on a jail inmate in 1995 while serving a four-year sentence for aggravated assault.

At the time Dotson died, a charge of aggravated robbery was pending against him. An affidavit filed by police accused him of driving a van that nearly struck a pedestrian on Jan. 9. When the pedestrian approached the van and yelled, Dotson pulled out a handgun and demanded the man's wallet. Dotson was arrested shortly afterward and identified by the victim.

The other adults killed also have arrest records. Seals was booked into the Shelby County jail at least a dozen times since 1992. His last arrest came in February on charges including unlawful possession of a weapon and cocaine possession, the sheriff's department said.

Roberson had been arrested on prostitution and drug charges, while Williams' record included charges only for traffic violations, said sheriff's spokesman Steve Shular.

Relatives say they know of no activity by Dotson or others in the home that could have led to the violence. The landlord said Dotson and his girlfriend were good tenants, always courteous and on time with the rent.

But in a neighborhood where residents say drugs, prostitution and gang-related violence have been problems for years, people tend to keep to themselves.

"We have neighbors, but we don't get involved," Mackey said.

"They (neighbors) may be afraid to go to police," she said.

So police have gone door to door in the neighborhood looking for leads.

Billy E. Gunn, whose house is behind the home where the bodies were found, said police questioned him.

Gunn said he heard five rapid gunshots and then three slow ones around 9 p.m. Sunday. He didn't feel the need to call police because it's such a common sound.

"It wouldn't have mattered; it takes the police so long to get out here," he said.

Last fall, the FBI ranked Memphis eighth in the country for reports of serious crimes per capita, though local law enforcers questioned the FBI's methodology.

Ricky Hall, 52, who lives near the home were the bodies were found, says the neighborhood has grown more unkempt and dangerous in the past few years, with many rental homes sitting empty.

He said he had no information about the case but, like his neighbors, hopes someone can provide clues to police.

"Somebody must have seen or heard something," he said.


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