‘It’s all senseless’: Gun battle in Providence neighborhood stemmed from dispute between rival groups

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Three people remain in critical condition after an ongoing feud between two groups ended in gunfire Thursday night, leaving a usually quiet Providence neighborhood on edge.

The shooting occurred just before 7 p.m. on Carolina Avenue, which is located in the Washington Park area of the city. Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements said the investigation revealed the assailant group pulled up in front of a home where the other group was gathered outside on the front porch.

After parking in front of the home, the assailant group got out of their vehicle and opened fire, according to Clements.

The two groups exchanged gunfire for several minutes before the assailant group hopped back into their vehicle and took off. In total, Clements estimates anywhere from 50 to 60 shots were fired.

Clements said overall, nine people were injured. The victims range in age from 19 to 25 and include eight men and one woman. Eight of those victims were shot, while the ninth victim was injured by broken glass.

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The victims have not yet been identified, but Clements said three are in critical condition at Rhode Island Hospital. He also said four of the victims are in stable condition and the other two have since been treated and released.

“Miraculously, no one has died in this barrage of bullets,” Clements said, adding that all of the victims are expected to recover.

Clements was hesitant to identify anyone involved in the shooting just yet, stating that they believe everyone involved is “on both sides of the gun.”

“Today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim and today’s victim is tomorrow’s shooter,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, senseless and what they committed … there’s no regard for human safety and human life.”

Clements stopped short of calling the groups gangs, but said it’s an ongoing “cycle of violence that has gone on for years.”

“These are not gangs in the sense of red and blue, Crips and Bloods,” Clements said. “These are just groups of young men in the community who easily have access to firearms and exact their revenge on each other.”

Clements said the vehicle the assailant group was in was also found parked near Rhode Island Hospital. During a search of the house Thursday night, officers also seized eight firearms.

It was a find Clements said wasn’t surprising. In 2017, he said detectives seized 10 guns from that same home.

No one has been arrested yet, but Clements said a wide range of charges are forthcoming. Right now, four of the victims are being guarded at Rhode Island Hospital, Clements said, and he expects them to be taken into custody upon release.

The shooting is being billed as the largest shooting in the city’s history, and is classified as a mass shooting by federal standards.

Prior to this incident, Providence had already seen 19 gunshot victims and seven shooting deaths since January. Clements said Providence Police have also seized twice as many illegal firearms so far this year as compared to years past.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said there’s been a significant uptick in gun violence across the city.

“There are too many guns that are accessible to too many young adults,” Paré said. “They resort to getting guns and firing at people … That needs to stop.”

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These days, Paré said it’s not uncommon for detectives to find dozens of shell casings at any given crime scene.

“Typically we’ll have shots fired with one or two or five shell casings,” he said. “Now we’re finding that it’s typical for people to be shooting at one another or at homes with 20 and 30 shell casings left behind.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza reiterated his call for an end to the ongoing violence in the capital city. He said some of the weapons that have been seized by Providence Police are “weapons of war.”

“Some of the guns [officers] are getting off the street are terrifying,” Elorza said. “They have no business being in the hands of civilians.”

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While he praised Providence Police’s ongoing effort to get illegal guns off the city’s streets, Elorza also said there are also larger societal issues at play that need to be addressed.

“We have to ask ourselves, what does it take for someone to lose all hope in their future so that they believe the best way to address a conflict is to grab a gun and try to kill somebody with it?” Elorza questioned. “There is something seriously wrong with kids ending up in that position.”

“We’re living in a society right now where the level of anger … it’s creeped into every corner of our lives. It seeps into everyone,” he continued.

Meanwhile, those who live nearby remain shaken by the gun battle.

“We’re shocked because Washington Heights has always been a tight-knit community,” Dion Baker said.

Elorza said in response to the incident, Providence Police has stepped up patrols in the neighborhood.

Paré encouraged anyone who can provide detectives with any information pertinent to the case to contact Providence Police.

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