After a violent weekend in Gulfport, the victims and their families can rest a little easier after the news that both suspects in two different shootings were caught as they fled in different directions, to different states, but could these crimes have been prevented? As residents look for answers, Gulfport Police Chief, Leonard Papania, pointed out a potential flaw in the criminal justice system. Gulfport Police worked throughout the night, searching for evidence and clues that would lead them to the gunman who shot and killed 19 year old, Raymond Hawze III, in a convenience store parking lot Sunday night.
Less than 48 hours later and more than 1,500 miles away, the law caught up with the alleged shooter, 23 year old, D’Juan Holloway, after a high speed chase and shoot out with Texas and New Mexico law enforcement. The third was an innocent bystander. Anton Winters, a neighborhood resident, says, "This ain’t no bad neighborhood, it may be a red zone to some, but it really ain’t. Lil Howze, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, that just random happens. Life goes on, you know."
Police feel Howze was murdered for his 2008 Chevy Cobalt and was an innocent victim. Neighbors say there have been at least five other incidents at the convenience store, including fights and shootings, causing police to keep a close eye on the location. Papania says, "Anytime you have a location that has a consistent rhythm of crime, it needs to be looked at by law enforcement, it needs to be looked at by the community."
Michael Dwayne Thornton Jr., the alleged shooter from Ashton Park Apartments Saturday morning, was apprehended by law enforcement in Henry County, Georgia after a lengthy chase. Papania feels these violent incidents expose a problem in the criminal justice system. He says, "We need to take a long hard look at our Department of Corrections and our sentencing, because I’ll be frank with you, I think we’re letting people out a little early."
According to Harrison County jail records, Holloway was released from his last arrest on December 9th of last year, just over a month before Sunday’s fatal shooting. He was picked up on multiple arrests, including intimidation of a witness and carrying a concealed weapon.
The other alleged shooter, Thornton Jr., was picked up on multiple felony arrests, including armed robbery and burglary of a dwelling. He was released just four days before he allegedly shot a man in Gulfport. Chief Papania vows to look deeper into the sentencing issue to keep Gulfport residents safe. In the meantime, many residents feel the police handled this tragic situation well. Winters also says, "They wrapped that case up, and I like that. I’m not mad at the police or nothing because they have a job to do, to protect and serve. I appreciate them for that."
Winters will continue to do what he can to make his neighborhood a better place. He closes, "It’s gotta’ be better than it is. That’s all I want to say really."
A candlelight vigil was held at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at the M & S Convenience Store on Old Pass Road.