Sofhia Steen was surrounded by chaos, but she couldn’t move from her front porch.
“I’m still standing there as the bullets fly by me. It’s blood everywhere. It’s bullets everywhere. I couldn’t move,” Steen said. “Everyone around me was running, hiding.”
Steen was at her home on Coyle Street with family, celebrating her sister’s birthday Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday. They had a great time, Steen said — until the gunfire started.
“This has scarred me for the rest of my life,” Steen told the Free Press outside of her west-side home Monday.
Two people were killed and six others injured when a gunman with a high-powered weapon opened fire, apparently over a parking dispute, according to police and witness accounts.
“I haven’t slept since it happened,” Steen. “Every time I close my eyes… I see everything.”
The shooting suspect lives right across from Steen on Coyle Street, according to police.
Gail Beamon, who lives next door to the suspect, said the two people killed were close friends of her children. The pair weren’t there for the party across the street, Beamon said. They were at her home of her visiting her children of her when the suspect got into an argument with them about where they had parked — near his driveway of her.
That’s when the suspect went back into his house, brought out a gun that looked like an AR-15 or an AK-47, and opened fire at the pair’s vehicle, according to Steen.
“They were loving, kind, hardworking people,” Beamon said of the two victims who died, a 38-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman. “They’re family.”
Steen said that after shooting at the vehicle, the suspect went back inside his home and began shooting from atop an awning, this time toward her house across the street.
Beamon said she heard at least 20 gunshots. The alleged shooter ultimately surrendered himself to officers and he was taken into custody without further incident, police said. The case was being reviewed by the prosecutor’s office for potential charges.
Two of Steen’s cousins were shot in the face, Steen said. Her teenage nephew de ella, who saw her standing still on her porch and pushed her down to the ground to take cover, was shot trying to save her, Steen recalled.
“I owe him my life,” Steen said.
Her nephew, Jaylyn Hill, 19, was initially listed in critical condition, according to police, but underwent surgery and was stable, family members said.
Her whole family is traumatized and in shock, she said.
“I’m moving. I have to get out of this house,” Steen said.
“It’s so cold in this house now.”
Shooter ‘strategically staged’ guns around home
Detroit Police Chief James White said Monday the suspect has a military background and had “strategically staged” guns around his home.
Instead of calling police over the parking dispute, White said the suspect “decided to take matters into his own hands.”
White said responding officers went inside the suspect’s home, where they found 11 firearms.
“(Police) recovered 11 weapons, again, 11 weapons, from his home that were strategically placed throughout the home so as he moved through the home, he would have access to these weapons,” White said.
White did not disclose details of the gun used in the shooting, the guns retrieved, or the number of shots fired, because the prosecutor’s office was still reviewing the case. The gun used was described as “high-powered.”
The two victims who died attempted to drive to a hospital, but crashed near McNichols and Greenfield roads before being transported by ambulance, said Detroit Police Commander Michael McGinnis. One was pronounced dead Sunday. The other died Monday.
White said that after the shooting, he directed all felony weapons arrests be sent for federal review to Dawn Ison, the new US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and a native Detroiter.
“We are very serious about this, and we’re not playing around,” White said. “This country’s obsession with weapons and mass shootings. This is unacceptable, and we can do better and we have to do better.”
Other than noncriminal neighbor disputes, the suspect was not known to the department, White said. Police believe the suspects suffer from mental illness.
A call to action
White, community organizers from Ceasefire Detroit, City Council President Mary Sheffield, and others spoke of the teamwork needed to combat gun violence in the city, calling yet another emotional news conference “a call to action.”
“The community is tired. This is out of control,” said Quincy Smith of Ceasefire Detroit. “How many more press conferences like this? How many more scenes? How many more hospital visits, burials that we have to go through? Our children, our youth, our community is under attack. Everyone should be outraged.”
“Everyone should feel the weight of responsibility to do something. Get involved. There is no more time for sitting on the sidelines. Not being vocal. Not reaching out. Not being a mentor. Not saying something. Not standing up for those who don ‘t have a voice. The time for that is over. We need the community to stand up.”
Smith emphasized that resources through Ceasefire and other community organizations are available to help intervene in disputes and interrupt paths to gun violence. Eric Doeh, president of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network, also emphasized mental health resources that are available.
White said that overall violent crime is on the decline in the city, pointing to department data that indicates homicides are down 5% and nonfatal shootings have decreased 15% compared with this time last year.
But this past weekend was particularly bloody.
White said there were 24 nonfatal shootings and seven homicides in the city over the weekend.
He pointed to a number of disturbing recent incidents of gun violence:
Two 14-year-old girls were injured in a drive-by shooting while at a birthday party Sunday on the 8600 block of Penrod Street.
And last week, a 13-year-old was fatally shot in southwest Detroit over a cellphone that may have been stolen. On Monday, a 16-year-old was charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the case.
“Detroit families are in pain, neighbors near the gunfire shaken and lives have been forever changed,” White said. “… No one needs to live like this. Our community deserves better and we must do better as a community for our own safety and for each other’s safety.”
Andrea Sahouri covers criminal justice for the Detroit Free Press. She can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @andreamsahouri.