ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — In reference to a double shooting that happened at Bellview Ballpark on Saturday evening, Sheriff Chip Simmons is calling on the community for help.
According to Simmons, at 6 p.m., on Saturday, his office received a call of shots fired at Bellview Ballpark. When deputies arrived, they found one 22-year-old dead and another injured.
“This is at a Bellview Ballpark where there were football games taking place,” said Simmons. “This was a very joyous day, until some idiots decide to jump a fence, cause an altercation and exchange gunfire with a number of people.”
The sheriff said as many as six to 10 people were involved in the incident. He said two of those people involved left the ballpark and returned, wearing masks. Gunfire was exchanged and two people were shot. One of the victims is expected to survive, according to Simmons.
“After the shooting, you can imagine there are a number of people running around and a number of people trying to figure out what took place,” said Simmons. “There was a deputy sheriff that was working at that location, but he was on the other side of the football field. So, by the time he got there, this had already taken place.”
Simmons said around four to six people drove away from the scene. Investigators also found 15 shell casings on scene. Since many were in attendance, the sheriff is asking that any parents, coaches or spectators send in any video or tips that could help the investigation.
“Having coached a lot of football and spending a lot of time at Bellview Ballpark, there are a lot of people that are videotaping their kids’ football games,” Simmons said. “So, we are asking for anybody that was there, if they have a video to please let us know. Even if it is beforehand, even if it is passing by, even if it is of a touchdown, you might have some people in the background. If we can catch the people on video that were involved in this disturbance, we believe those are the individuals that caused this crime.”
Simmons said there are people out there that know the information and know who is involved, which can help them in their investigation, but for some reason, do not want to tell his office.
“We cannot have this,” Simmons said. “If you want to be part of the solution, stop defending these people. Stop defending their actions. Whether they are friends of yours, associates of yours or family of yours, because if you keep your mouth shut this is going to continue. We are going to have all of the deputies in the world out there, but we can’t be everywhere. So, I’m begging you. This is a senseless, useless, ridiculous tragedy. Shame on you for doing it, and if you have information, video or something that can help us, shame on you for not letting us know what it is. We are not going to tolerate this at our ballparks. We are not going to tolerate this anywhere, but you cannot put our children at risk.”
Escambia County Board of Commissioners chairman Jeff Bergosh called the shooting a horrible tragedy.
“Our hearts go out to the victims’ families and most importantly our hearts go out to the families and children that were there that had to watch this,” said Bergosh. “Once you take that bird and let him out of the cage, you will never put him back. So, some of these children are going to be heartbroken, and these parents are going to be visualizing this. It’s a horrible tragedy.”
Bergosh said the county is going to provide specific action because of the shooting and will be providing grief counseling Wednesday at 6 p.m., at Wedgewood Community Center.
“Anyone who saw this, any player, coach parent referee, anyone who was there that had to witness this fight and the violence, if you are having trouble with it, please feel free to come speak to some folks that can help you process it and help you through it,” Bergosh said. “You can also visit 988lifeline.org if you need some assistance. It’s traumatic.”
Since Bellview is in the commissioner’s district, he said this shooting is not representative of his community.
“We put a lot of effort into that park,” Bergosh said. “This is not representative of the community of Bellview, and I just want people to know that. These are outside influences coming in. They will be caught. I have no doubt the sheriff and his men will catch these people. The county in addition is going to work with the sheriff’s office to schedule additional off-duty deputies. We have seven remaining youth football games in the season, and we are going to do everything we can to make these parks a secure place for families.”
Just two weeks ago, the Bellview community opened a brand-new library. Bergosh said it is amazing the difference two weeks can make.
“Two weeks ago, we had a great day in Bellview,” Bergosh said. “We opened a brand-new library; state-of-the-art. We had 400 people there, all happy. Two short weeks later, we have this. This isn’t what we want. This isn’t what we want for our communities and our children. We have got to keep our children safe. From the county’s perspective, we are going to do everything we can to help the sheriff and provide additional support.”
As a 40-year coach, commissioner Lumon May said he knows the importance of the county’s most valuable asset, children.
“Law enforcement can’t do it alone,” May said. “I today petition our parents, our fraternities, our sororities, our pastors, our civil rights leaders, our activists, let’s make it a point to show up and help law enforcement. Let’s show up at these games and put up a hedge of protection around our children. We can’t be afraid. We can’t give in. ”
Escambia County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Timothy Smith said they currently have five schools that started out Monday morning with crisis counseling in reference to the shooting.
“This is an act of pure evil,” said Smith. “It’s despicable what has happened. It has spread out from the individuals involved to children. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is pure evil what has happened. This is hard for an adult to process, to fathom a 10-year-old or 12-year-old having to process this and to experience this trauma, is absolutely awful. So, I can’t support Sheriff Simmons any more than possible as he works to solve this case and find the people that have done this evil act. I thank our school community, our parents for rallying together and supporting our children. We are going to have to work on this together to support them as they go through this very traumatic time.”
There were no children harmed in the shooting, but Sheriff Simmons said the shooting was a targeted incident.
“This was not a random act,” Simmons said. “These are not people that climb a fence and decide to shoot the first person they see. These are individuals that had a disagreement, went there and approached the two individuals and that led to gunfire. We counted at least 15 rounds, but there are probably more. Imagine if one of those projectiles had hit an innocent child. It’s not too hard to imagine. It’s horrific.”
Simmons said the individuals may all come from the same area. There was talk that the shooting may have been people involved in the shooting of Ladarius Clardy, but the sheriff said they talked with the family, and they have cleared any suspicion.
“I spoke with the parents of LD, and they are just as appalled and devastated as we all are,” said Simmons. “A lot of these things stem from something else. There was an argument that started and then it escalated to gunfire. I think we can easily take a look at the people involved in this and they were people of interest in past shootings. Again, I want to be clear that we do not think this is a retaliation from the Clardy family. Some of the people involved in the Clardy investigation are also suspects in this particular investigation as well.”
Moving forward, Simmons said there will be a heightened level of security at all future football games and there will be a violent crime round table next week.
For anyone with any information on the shooting at Bellview Ball Park, contact the sheriff’s office at 850-436-9620, or call CRIMESTOPPERS.