MADISON (WKOW) -- The sight of investigators combing for evidence Tuesday afternoon along East Washington Avenue reaffirmed the fears Robyn Roberts said she's felt recently amid a spike in gun violence this summer.
"I currently don't feel safe to do a lot of walking on the sidewalks or streets right around here," said Roberts, who added she no longer allows her children to play in front of their home.
Madison Police said the shooting around 11:45 Tuesday morning involved a driver shooting at another car. Acting Chief Vic Wahl said investigators believe the gunman was targeting the other driver. Instead, one of the bullets struck a passenger in the car, an 11-year-old girl. Wahl said the bullet hit the girl's head; he added she was in critical condition, undergoing surgery Tuesday afternoon at a Madison hospital.
"These incidents of gun violence are the acts of a few," said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. "A few people who are trying to settle scores and are willing to put other innocent lives in danger again and again. It has to stop and it has to stop now."
Wahl said the driver of the car has a connection to the girl's family but was uncertain of what exactly their relationship is. Wahl added investigators were looking into the possibility the shooting was connected to an incident around 8:30 Tuesday morning near Stoughton Road and Milwaukee Street. Madison Police said callers reported seeing people in two vehicles shooting at each other; MPD reported no injuries in that incident.
Wahl said investigators are also looking into whether the shooting is connected to an ongoing feud that led to the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Maurice Bowman last month, and a subsequent shooting at a memorial for Bowman at Garner Park that left three people wounded.
Wahl bemoaned the number of shootings involving stray bullets that hit cars and homes. He said the city's "luck ran out" Tuesday when the bullet struck the young girl.
"That's what is so devastating, is I think this is an innocent child and I think that could be my kid," Roberts said.
Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Tuesday the department began tracking shots fired incidents in 2016. In June, MPD recorded 29 such incidents, which Wahl said was the most the department had ever seen in a single month. Until July.
"That was the highest monthly total since we've been tracking the statistic. 29 in June, highest ever," Wahl said. "In July, there were 44."
MPD said it has recorded 143 total shots fired calls in 2020, an 88 percent increase through this date in 2019. The 11-year-old victim in Tuesday's shooting was the 28th person wounded by gunfire this year in Madison.
"Anyone who knows anything about this has to step forward," Rhodes-Conway said. "I know it may be difficult but it's critical. You can prevent the next child from being shot."
Stray Bullet Strikes Neighboring Home
Around the corner from the main shooting scene, a house on Powers Avenue had a bullet hole in its siding. Another bullet went into a van in the driveway.
The homeowners declined to be identified or go on camera but said it was the first shooting incident they've experienced in the nearly 30 years they've lived in the east side home.
The resident said the bullet that entered the home went into their bedroom; the wall slowed it enough so that it pierced a blanket before falling to the floor. The couple was having lunch in another room at the time of the shooting.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway and Defunding the Police
Wahl and Rhodes-Conway held their press conference on the steps the the City County Building. On the street in front of them were the faded words 'DEFUND THE POLICE,' which activists painted on the road in June.
A 27 News reporter asked Rhodes-Conway about the calls from activists, and even some alders, to dramatically slash the police department's budget. Specifically, how the city could cut police spending while enacting short-term crime prevention.
"I think that what's going on right now demonstrates why we need a police department to address violent crime," Rhodes-Conway said. "We can have conversations about reform and we need to. And we can have conversations about how we promote public safety across the board using other tools than police and we need to."
"But we also need to recognize the role of the police department and it's exactly in dealing with incidents like this today, to prevent violent crime."