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Police and fire

Archie Ingersoll | The Journal Gazette
Richard Nelson believes the bullet that ripped through the dining room wall of his Drexel Avenue home, visible in the lower left of this photo, was fired from a car passing by.

Vandalism by gunfire in Fort Wayne's southeast quadrant

Many causes, police say: Stray bullets, random shots, drive-bys

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Deloss Dager of Howell Street found this hole in his window. No bullet was found.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Bruce Evans says a bullet tore through a bedroom wall and a dresser in his Abbott Street home. He found it in a laundry basket.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Deloss Dager acknowledges he can’t be sure what put a hole in the window of his Howell Street home.
The Journal Gazette

– Richard Nelson and his wife were in bed about 3 a.m. Oct. 20 when a big boom awoke them.

"We heard this loud report," he said. "Really loud."

A few hours later, they came downstairs to start their day and found a hole in the wall and a scattering of broken plaster. Not far from that mess was a spent bullet on the dining room floor.

Nelson, a 75-year-old retiree, did some investigating and concluded that the round had ricocheted off the trunk of a car and hit the front of his white, two-story house, a couple of feet below a window. He believes the shot was a random one that came from a car passing his house on Drexel Avenue, just east of South Anthony Boulevard.

Nelson called police that morning, and an officer came by the house. It was just one of dozens of reports Fort Wayne police take each year concerning homes, garages, cars and other objects that have been struck by gunfire, according to police records.

The problem is especially bad on the southeast side, where Nelson lives. That quadrant has tallied 105 reports of gunshot vandalism this year, significantly more than all other quadrants combined, according to police records.

"Things are really starting to get kind of crazy around here," Nelson said of the neighborhood where he's lived for 35 years. "It's nothing like it used to be."

And while this has been a particularly violent year, with 39 homicides in Fort Wayne and Allen County, there does not seem to be a correlation between the numbers of gunshot vandalism reports and the numbers of shootings and killings in the past decade.

As of last week, the city had totaled 173 reports of vandalism by gunfire. In the past 10 years, the number of such reports has ranged from a low of 172 in 2011 to a high of 282 in 2006, records show.

Explaining this phenomenon isn't easy. Some cases are drive-by shootings aimed at certain homes. Some are stray bullets that missed their intended targets. Some are entirely random.

"You have a plethora of reasons," said officer Michael Joyner, a police spokesman.

Yet, with all these bullets riddling houses and vehicles, a person being hit by a stray one is a rarity in the city, Joyner said.

Nonetheless, it happens.

On July 4, a woman reported that a bullet pierced the top of her shoulder as she sat on her patio on the near-northeast side. She was treated at a hospital and released shortly afterward.

In March 2012, a shooting outside a building at Eden Green Apartments produced stray gunfire that seriously wounded a woman in an apartment where she lived with her two young children. She survived, and her kids were not hurt.

Stories like this are enough to stir grim thoughts after a bullet rips through even an empty home.

Bruce Evans, 49, said no one was in his Abbott Street home, northwest of McMillen Park, on Sept. 13 when a bullet came into a bedroom and put a hole in a dresser. The bullet landed in a laundry basket.

The experience did not scare Evans, but he realized "it could have been different. Someone could have been home."

Evans could not explain how the bullet ended up in his house. "I don't have any enemies at all," he said.

Not all reports of gunshot vandalism are as clear-cut as the cases presented by Evans and Nelson. Sometimes no bullet evidence can be found, but the damage sure looks like gunfire is to blame.

That's what happened at Deloss Dager's house on Howell Street in the Nebraska neighborhood west of downtown. Dager called police in August after he spotted a bullet-size hole in his front picture window.

With no bullet as evidence, he acknowledges that the cause of the hole is a mystery.

But whatever the explanation is, he's not worried about bullets hitting his home.

"It could happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere," the 91-year-old said. "You get to be my age, you don't worry about things like that."

The police response to reports of gunshot vandalism varies depending on the circumstances. Sometimes when a bullet is found, police can use forensic techniques to link it to a shooting in the area. If not, the bullet is simply stored in the evidence room.

"If it's just a random shot and we have no leads whatsoever, the likelihood of it being solved are very remote," Joyner said.

And in case not everyone is clear on the law:

"In the city of Fort Wayne, it is illegal to discharge a firearm," he said.


Because of a copy editing error, the print edition and earlier online version of this story had incorrect information. Spent bullets were found.