The sound of gunshots interrupted a man’s Facebook Live stream shortly before he was killed on a car ride on the edge of downtown Minneapolis with friends last March. And in June, another man was robbed and fatally shot by two suspects while sitting in his parked vehicle in northeast Minneapolis.
And as recently as last week, Minneapolis police continued their search for a gunman they say shot two teenagers sitting in a car outside of a north Minneapolis corner store on Feb. 29.
The victims, ages 16 and 19, are expected to survive, but the incident follows a trend of people shooting into cars, minivans and buses. According to a Star Tribune analysis of preliminary police data, in at least a quarter of all shootings last year the victim or victims were sitting or riding in a vehicle when struck.
A Star Tribune review of hundreds of police records and court documents from 2019 found that 64 of 242 shootings last year involved someone being shot while in a vehicle. The analysis found that four homicides unfolded in such a way, often because suspects fired their weapons without warning and at close range, leaving victims little time to react, according to police accounts of the incidents. Those victims were far more likely to be shot in the head or upper body than victims of other kinds of shootings, the analysis showed.
That isn’t entirely surprising, said police spokesman John Elder.
“That’s the area where the bullet is most likely to penetrate through what would be the glass, versus steel,” he said.
Elder said that while he can’t say for certain whether vehicle shootings are increasing, they reflect larger social trends.
“People are shot where they are at. Our society is so transient and so mobile that people are spending a great deal of their time in their cars,” he said. “And also people who want to do things nefariously, they may not want to do it in the open, they may want to do it in their cars.”
The shooting Feb. 29 followed a familiar pattern: Patrol officers responded at 8:15 p.m. to the parking lot of 5 Corners Market, 2425 W. Broadway, where they found two victims, who were later treated at a hospital and released. A third occupant of the car wasn’t struck.
Police believe the teens had just pulled up to the store when an unidentified suspect walked outside and began firing at them. No arrests had been announced as of last Monday morning.
In shootings where the victims don’t survive, the circumstances can vary.
In a high-profile case last March, paramedics were flagged down by a driver of a Toyota Camry carrying 17-year-old Abdiwasa Farah and another man who had been shot while parked behind the Red Sea restaurant, according to court filings.
Police believe that two Somali Outlawz gang members sneaked up on their car and pumped 26 shots into it, killing Farah and wounding two other people — apparently in retaliation for a drive-by shooting earlier that night. The two suspects fled the state and were later arrested in Texas and Nairobi, Kenya, respectively.
Three months later, police officers responding to a car crash on Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis found the 39-year-old driver, Steven Markey, slumped behind the steering wheel with gunshot wounds. Prosecutors say two teens in the middle of a robbery spree shot the Plymouth man while trying to carjack him. One of the teens pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last Monday in Markey’s death.
Jamar Nelson, who does outreach for the Minneapolis-based violence prevention group A Mother’s Love, said that frequency of such shootings comes down to one thing: opportunity.
A younger generation of shooters, eager to prove their mettle, are more likely to fire at rivals wherever they are, with less concern about where their bullets land, he said.
“I think they are more brazen,” said Nelson. “I think also this is not a new trend — this is something that is just being noticed.”
Victims in vehicles have been hallmarks of high-profile shootings in recent years. The May 2016 death of 58-year-old grandmother Birdell Beeks galvanized the North Side in its outcry against violence after she was struck by an errant bullet as she sat in her minivan with her granddaughter by her side. In July of that year, 2-year-old Le’Vonte King Jason Jones was shot and killed as he rode in a van with his 15-month-old sister and their father. The suspects in both shootings were eventually arrested.
Whether or not the number is going up is unclear, because the Police Department doesn’t keep records of how many gunshot victims were injured or killed inside their vehicles.
And in untold more cases each year, bullets are fired into cars without striking anyone.
This points to the dearth of data and research on gun violence, according to Marizen Ramirez, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Division of Environmental Health Sciences.
“The problem with firearms violence research is that it’s not been traditionally funded by federal agencies,” said Ramirez, who studies gun violence from a public health perspective.
“The way that we look at prevention is really broadly — there isn’t one pill that one can take to solve the problem. Enforcement is one factor, education is one factor, changing the environment and engineering.”