City On Edge: W-B Mayor Reassures Residents Amid Spate Of Shootings
WILKES-BARRE — A day after the latest in a series of shooting incidents in the city over the past few weeks, Mayor Tony George and police Chief Joe Coffay sought to reassure residents that everything possible is being done to catch the culprits, and asked for their patience.
“Wilkes-Barre’s on edge, and rightfully so,” George said at a news conference Wednesday while flanked by six members of his administration and three council members.
George said he won’t tolerate “those who don’t have respect or regard for us and our neighbors. … As the valley with a heart, we have compassion for all walks of life. But we will not have our hearts broken. We will not be made to feel like prisoners in our own homes.”
Shots were fired at people, into homes and/or into vehicles in the city over an eight-day period this month in the following incidents:
• Multiple shots were fired into a home at 42 Dagobert St. at about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday.
• A woman’s vehicle was struck at least once during a rain of bullets fired in the area of Dana and High streets at about 4:40 p.m. Tuesday.
• Several shots were fired into a Lockhart Street home in a drive-by shooting around 11:15 a.m. Monday.
• A man was shot outside 253 Bowman St., where the man reportedly went to visit his girlfriend, at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. He was still hospitalized as of Wednesday.
• Two Scranton women were shot in a vehicle on Sullivan Street at about 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12. Both remained hospitalized as of Wednesday, and one is paralyzed from the waist down.
George said Coffay and city police have been working “non-stop” with the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office “to take all possible actions to stop the shootings and to stop the drugs throughout the city.”
George said police have regularly been conducting patrol sweeps and saturation patrols for several years, but have not publicized those for which doing so could hamper investigations.
“Don’t think they’re not working because you’re not hearing anything. This isn’t a TV show or a reality game. This is reality: it takes time to solve crime. Crimes aren’t solved overnight. … These guys are working their tails off and they keep working. Joe (Coffay) canceled three or four vacations to stay here to work on this,” George said.
Coffay said he’s “personally disturbed and troubled” by the recent shootings.
“I can assure you that our detective division and patrol division have been working tirelessly to identify and arrest those involved in these cowardly acts,” Coffay said.
“We have reached out to our federal, state and county partners in law enforcement to assist in our efforts. We’ve increased patrols by adding manpower to all shifts in the patrol division and the detective division. All available manpower is assigned in one way or another,” he said.
Coffay said city police have partnered with members of the ATF Task Force, the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, state police and the county DA’s office, “all of whom have been a force multiplier for us in this investigation.”
Coffay said police have information that the shooting incidents are not random, “but as a result of an ongoing dispute between numerous subjects who have been involved in altercations and who decided to settle them by shooting at each other.”
“They’re having a dispute with somebody and they’re shooting at their house or their vehicle,” he said.
At least one person’s vehicle, however, was struck by a bullet while driving by a shooting scene.
Later Wednesday, Judy Kosloski, executive director of the Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority, confirmed the private vehicle of an authority employee was hit during the Dana Street shooting while the employee was driving home from an appointment on Tuesday.
Kosloski described the shooting of the employee’s vehicle as “random — wrong place, wrong time.”
Coffay confirmed the employee was not targeted, but he said police did identify a targeted vehicle and victim related to that shooting incident.
Also later on Wednesday, George Brown, who is challenging the mayor for his seat in the primary election in May, released a statement thanking Coffay and city police, whom he said have been working short-handed through this rash of shootings.”
“As a neighbor, father and grandfather I am not immune to the fear that has taken over South Wilkes-Barre,” Brown continued. “Now is not the time for politics, and I hope everyone can agree to commit to fully funding and staffing our police force going forward so our residents can feel safe in their homes once again.”
At the news conference, Coffay noted the shooting of the Scranton women on Sullivan Street was not connected to any of the other shootings. Police have identified three persons of interest in that shooting.
Coffay said cooperation from victims has been limited to non-existent in most of the shootings. Still, he said, police have been making headway.
“We’ve identified several subjects that are possibly involved in at least two of these shootings and we hope that an arrest is imminent,” he said.
Asked if any of the shootings were gang-related, Coffay said “several of these members are associates of gangs or claim to be associates of gangs, but in all reality, we really won’t know that until we actually have them in custody and we can interview them.”
Coffay said most people associated with gangs in Wilkes-Barre are associated with either the Crips or the Bloods.
He believes those involved in the shootings are from this area as well as from places such as New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Coffay said he found it particularly disturbing that the shooters are “not just shooting at the individuals that they’re targeting or fighting with, they’re actually shooting at the house, and inside those houses are other people — other people in those families.
“Some of those are family members that have nothing to do with the dispute,” he said.
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See video from Mayor Tony George’s news conference linked to this story at citizensvoice.com.