Last Thursday, community members in Middle River gathered for a town hall with police and politicians to discuss the recent drive-by shooting that happened last week.
However, what began as a meeting to “calm the nerves” of residents later became a campaign rally for both elected officials and aspiring candidates.
The town hall was held at the Victory Villa Baptist Church on Chandelle Road on July 28 at 7 p.m. to inform locals on the Middle River shooting incident that happened on July 26.
“It’s horrible,” local resident Susan Pretty said before the town hall. “It’s very scary.”
Police Captain Eliot Latchaw from the Essex precinct stood at the podium in front of the congregation of about a hundred concerned citizens. According to Latchaw, he characterized one of the victims as a “major drug dealer.”
“This was not an innocent victim,” Latchaw said.
A bystander video shows a black SUV had crashed into a pole at the intersection of Martin Boulevard and Compass Road. The video goes on to show a white car, that had no front tags, driving next to the SUV and rapidly firing bullets from what is assumed to be an assault rifle.
Police said the victims, a 43-year-old man and 42-year-old woman, were taken to the hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds. According to Latchaw, the two shooting victims are not from Essex or Middle River but were leaving Essex District Court on Kelso Drive before being gunned down.
“This incident was not you guys or your children or your mom or dad driving down the street and being targeted,” Latchaw said. “There was a reason this happened.”
Both victims were charged for drug possession with intent to distribute as well as faced gun charges after police found drugs and a weapon in their crashed car, following days after the town hall. However police say the suspects of the shooting on Tuesday are “still at-large”.
State delegate Ric Metzgar coordinated the town hall to “stop the rumor mills” in an attempt to assure locals the shooting was a targeted incident embedded in drug activity.
“It’s been so many rumors up and down that’s why I’m here as well,” Metzgar said.
After briefing the town hall attendees, Latchaw discussed his unit’s crime statistics in an attempt to reassure the public in his jurisdiction the competency of local police.
According to Latchaw, county police have taken 122 guns off the street in Essex alone, equating to one confiscated firearm every 1.7 days.
The town hall then transitioned to an open forum in which those that attended could ask the police captain questions concerning the shooting incident. Citing the same statistic provided above, one attendee asked if Essex has a problem with illegally owned firearms.
“I don’t have an exact answer as to why so many people are carrying guns now illegally,” Latchaw said.
As the town hall Q-and-A progressed, county executive candidate Pat McDonough used his time on the microphone to announce himself and the position he’s running for. McDonough went on to speak on policing issues such as staffing shortages in precincts.
“This is not about him running for office, this is not about a political goal,” concerned resident Leah Biddinger said. “This is about the crime in this area—I don’t need to hear him do a political speech.”
After Latchaw concluded his time, Metzgar took control of the podium and pointed out the local leaders in attendance, emphasizing how the crowd should feel grateful.
“If this meeting wasn’t so important that you would not have this many of your state delegates and community representatives that are here—you deserve to give them a round of applause,” Metzgar said.
The town hall transitioned from a session discussing the details of the Middle River shooting to a chance to introduce U.S. congress candidate Nicolee Ambrose to speak to the county crowd.
As Ambrose took the stage, she spoke on conservative topics, including more funding for the police.
Soon after, elected officials like David Marks, Johnny Ray Salling and Bob Long spoke to constituents at the podium, offering political speeches on increasing the number of police officers, extending police support from the community and stricter policing.
The town hall concluded just past 8:15 p.m. with attendees having mixed feelings about the material discussed in the meeting.
Some attendees lauded Captain Eliot Latchaw for informing them of the details of the shooting that had occurred, while others were disappointed the town hall turned into “political theater.”
“That’s not what I was here for,” attendee Nick Johnson said. “They were giving speeches and it’s pretty bad and that’s not why the community is here—the community was here to get answers for what happened.”