A deadly spree of shootings in Miami Gardens in the past two weeks has likely been “targeted” attacks by rival gangs, the mayor and city police say.
Four people have been killed and six others injured since the gunfire began with the shooting death of a teen at a gas station on Oct. 26.
“There are four different cases and nobody is talking,” said Miami Gardens police spokesman Carlos Austin. “Why are we looking at possible gang activity? Because if they’re connected, then a small group of people are creating havoc in our community.”
Police aren’t sure about what spurred the recent spate of shootings. Nobody has been robbed during the shootings and survivors aren’t talking — which fuels suspicion that some sort of gang beef has triggered the violence. And several small-time gangs, like the Carol City Goons and Behind the Plaza, have fought for turf most of the past decade in Miami Gardens, which is on the northern border of Miami-Dade County.
The victims have been between the ages of 17 and 50. All but one is a male.
“Nobody’s talking,” said Austin.
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert said the department is using analytics and working with other law enforcement agencies to try to curb the gunfire and determine what caused it.
“We do believe it’s gang-related,” Gilbert said. “The shootings generally aren’t random.”
The gun violence comes at a important time for Gilbert, whose city is hosting Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in February. The mayor, who is term-limited, also is the current front-runner for a Miami-Dade County commission post that opens up next year.
The mayor said public safety is his only concern. “Any day that someone loses their life is a bad day,” he said.
His likely competition for the county seat is Miami Gardens resident Sybrina Fulton, whose 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin was shot and killed during a struggle with George Zimmerman, an unofficial neighborhood watch guard, in the central Florida town of Sanford in 2012. Trayvon’s death led, in part, to a series of nationwide protests over gun violence.
“As a mother who lost a child to senseless gun violence, my heart breaks for any parent who receives news that their loved one won’t be coming home that night,” she told the Miami Herald in a prepared statement. “The fact of the matter is that while occurrences of violent crime are decreasing elsewhere in the county, we’re seeing an increase in Miami Gardens.”
Numbers seem to bear that out. Though the number of homicides in Miami Gardens so far this year wasn’t immediately available, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Miami Gardens saw a sharp rise in homicides in 2018, compared to the previous year. While homicides were down in most cities throughout the county, Miami Gardens reported 24 homicides in 2018, an almost 16 percent jump over the previous year.
One recent victim’s mother went on Facebook Live the day her son was murdered, explaining in painful detail how she tried to get him to move in with his father up north because he was being repeatedly picked on.
“My son was a target. I took Rodney out of Norland for them to turn around and still follow him to the gas station to kill him. They shot him in the head, in the face,” said Tina David, whose 17-year-old son Rodney Hinds Jr. was ambushed and killed in his car at a Shell Gas Station on Oct. 26.
“Somebody please tell me it’s not real. Who hurt my baby? Tell me. He just turned 17. He ain’t lived no life yet.”
“This appears to be a targeted shooting,” Austin said.
Rodney, who was on his way to visit a friend in Hollywood, according to his father, was sitting in his car while the gas pump ran when someone wearing a white hoodie with the words HYPE on it ran up to driver’s side and fired twice into the vehicle.
Surveillance video was clear enough to show flashes from the gun’s muzzle. The shooter remains free.
Two days later, on Oct. 28, five people were shot just after 8 p.m. outside a small convenience store at 3175 NW 207th St. In that incident, a silver or gray Nissan pulled into the parking lot and two shooters from inside the car opened fire on a crowd of people. Gunfire was returned by at least one person. When the shooting stopped, five people had been struck and injured, including one of the men inside the vehicle. Police believe at least one of the shooters from inside the car used a semiautomatic long rifle.
The injured shooter inside the car was later arrested after workers at Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines notified police that someone suffering a gunshot wound showed up at the hospital. Marlon Uptgrow, 25, was taken into custody without incident Oct. 31 and was charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, discharging a firearm from a vehicle, armed criminal mischief, and firearm use while committing a felony.
“And again,” said Austin, “nobody’s talking.”
And on Tuesday, gunfire erupted yet again in Miami Gardens. According to police, two men were standing on a swale on Northwest 39th Avenue and 188th Street when a newer-model light-colored Nissan Maxima pulled up and someone inside began shooting.
The shooting left 23-year-old Marcus Johnson dead and another man, 24, critically injured. Police, again, said the shooting appeared to be “targeted.” The shooter or shooters have not been apprehended and investigators are looking into whether the car involved is the same one used during one of the previous incidents.
And finally, late Thursday night a man and a woman sitting inside a car at a U-Gas at Northwest 42nd Avenue and 167th Street were shot and killed. By early Friday afternoon police had released very little information on the incident.
Miami Gardens Police Chief Delma Noel-Pratt wouldn’t go as far as saying police knew definitively that the shootings were gang-related. She said her staff is working with other local agencies and state and federal law enforcement in following leads.
On her Facebook video, Tina David, the mother of Rodney Hinds Jr., begged anyone with any information on her son’s death to come forward.
“Somebody please, if anybody knows anything, please call me so I can tell the detective. They say the guy goes to Norland. Rodney knows the guy,” she said. “I’m not going to stop until they find my son’s murderer.”