Like many Saturday nights, Vincent Nathaniel Mills and at least three others gathered outside a small cluster of duplexes in Liberty City, shooting craps or rolling dice, police said.
But on this night, as a good part of the city was transfixed on the UM-FSU football game, a car slowly rolled up, and someone began firing into the group.
Gunfire was returned.
After the car screeched away, four men were left lying on the ground outside of a home at 1340 NW 55th St. Police were there by 9: 18 p.m. They were all taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital within nine minutes.
But it was too late for Mills, 49, who died shortly after 10 p.m. The other three men — two 23-year-olds, the other 26 — remained at the hospital Monday in serious condition.
“Right now, all we have are pieces and we need help putting them together,” said Miami Police Detective Freddie Burden.
On Monday afternoon, all was quiet at the cluster of homes and duplexes where the gunfire erupted. A bullet had shattered a window. The front end of Mills’ blue 2001 Chevy was damaged, police said, but they weren’t certain if it happened in the shooting.
Few people were around, and those who were, weren’t talking. A lone Miami patrol car sat on a swale outside the home.
Police, who had not finished interviewing potential witnesses, could only speculate about a motive: retaliation of some sort. Various bullet casings show more than one weapon was fired, which is why police believe someone in the group fired back at the attackers.
Those who weren’t shot scattered quickly. The victims were found at different locations near or around the corner of Northwest 55th Street and 13th Avenue.
“The group ran in all different directions,” said Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa. “We need the public’s help.”
The incident happened so quickly that police initially had a hard time identifying the vehicle used by the shooters. They haven’t released information about the car.
The shooting was reminiscent of another craps game five years ago in Liberty City, when a drive-by shooting claimed the lives of two teenagers and wounded seven others. Though the suspect was captured, the charges didn’t stick after witnesses kept giving conflicting testimony.
Though shootings in the city’s north end have quieted down since mid-year, the past week has been bloody.
Last Tuesday, two kids were shot only 10 blocks away from Saturday’s incident, in Little Haiti during an off-day from school. The shooter, who ran into and out of a nearby home, hasn’t been caught. And Thursday, Bradley Holt, 24, was gunned down outside an Allapattah apartment after trying to protect kids playing in the street from an erratic driver.
Holt yelled at the man, who later returned and fatally shot Holt in the head. The yellow Mustang the shooter was driving has been recovered. The driver has not.
Miami’s north end has been a hot spot this year, with 89 people shot in Liberty City alone through July. The most prominent shooting was a drive-by over the summer just outside the Liberty Square housing project. Nine people were gunned down and two died.
Miami and Miami-Dade police have increased patrols. A few weeks ago, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson delivered a $1 million check to county cops, money that is supposed to help stop and solve the bloodshed.
The shootings have left police — many of whom grew up and still have family in the Liberty City area — at a loss for words. They said the violence is rooted in small, loosely knit local gangs and drug dealers.
Pastors have organized meetings. County Police Director J.D. Patterson and Miami Chief Orosa have met with the public. And though overall crime is down in Miami as it is nationally, the shooting rate is on the rise.
“I don’t understand what is going on or why it’s going on,” said Burden, the Miami detective who once patrolled the streets and is now a department spokeswoman. “It’s just senseless.”