Slaying shocks Merrillville neighborhood

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z 2013-04-08T10:53:58Z Slaying shocks Merrillville neighborhoodChas Reilly chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 nwitimes.com
April 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MERRILLVILLE | Anne Collins has lived in her home in Merrillville's Independence Hill subdivision for nearly 50 years.

"All of it peaceful," said Collins, who was a member of Merrillville's original Town Board.

Jim Beshears said it's common to hear children playing in the neighborhood. Salk Elementary School is in the subdivision and an asset to the community, he said.

Hearing of the March 27 shooting that killed 14-year-old Depree Mims in Mims' Independence Hill home was "a huge shock" to Beshears and other Independence Hill residents because of the low crime in the subdivision.

"It just doesn't happen here," Beshears said.

Some town officials said changes in society could have transformed the nature of crime reported in Merrillville and other communities.

"In the olden days, we didn't have drive-bys," Town Council President Carol Miano said.

Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey, a former Merrillville police officer, said "sticks and fists" were once the weapons used during gang fights.

"Anymore, it's just guns," Guernsey said.

Less than a week before the Independence Hill shooting, a woman reported shots fired into her home in the town's Sedona neighborhood.

No injuries were reported in that shooting, which occurred March 22 in the 1400 block of West 82nd Place.

The woman told police a note stating "we're coming for you" was found on her property.

She said she doesn't know anyone who would want to harm her or her family, and she believes the shots and note were intended for someone else.

Police said no other incidents have been reported at her house since that shooting, and that incident is unrelated to the shooting that killed Mims.

Mims was shot in the head while he was gathering a blanket to watch a movie with his family at their home in the 7500 block of Marshall Street.

The motive hasn't been determined, but Merrillville investigators said information they received shows it was a gang initiation.

Police were told a member of a gang was previously robbed, and the gangmember thought the person who committed the robbery lived in the Mims home.

The shots fired into the home weren't intended for Mims, police said.

Kevin Brown, 18, Matthew Knight, 16, Anthony Addison, 22, and Joshua Addison, 21, have been charged with murder and criminal gang activity in connection with Mims' death.

Brown and Knight are from Merrillville, and the Addison brothers are from Gary.

Hearing young residents are suspects in a major crime has Collins asking "where are the parents?"

Miano and Police Chief Joseph Petruch believe parents need to take a more active approach to ensure their children are avoiding trouble and they aren't becoming involved in crimes.

Petruch referenced a situation in which a suspect in a case was dealing drugs out of the suspect's parent's home, but the parents "didn't do anything about it."

Allowing those types of activities to occur can have negative affects on a community, he and Miano said.

Merrillville's Town Council has been seeking ways to reduce crime in town by hiring more police.

Petruch said adding more officers would increase police presence, deter criminal activity and create a more proactive Police Department.

He said Merrillville has 46 officers, and he will soon start interviewing candidates to get the force back to 50.

Guernsey and other town leaders said more police are needed after the department increases to 50. He said he would "feel good" if the town could bring in 12 additional officers.

Determining how to generate the funds necessary to increase the Police Department's staff has been the issue preventing Merrillville from adding to the Police Department.

Guernsey said he plans to examine Merrillville's budget to determine if there are funds that can be transferred to the Police Department, but he understands other action is needed to make a substantial difference.

Councilman Richard Hardaway said developing a plan to increase funding isn't going to happen overnight.

He said the entire council must gather and choose a method they all agree Merrillville should pursue.

Hardaway believes obtaining the substantial funds necessary to improve the Police Department will require assistance from state lawmakers.

Merrillville has made multiple attempts at receiving fiscal home rule from the state, but those proposals didn't advance.

Fiscal home rule would give the town the authority to enact a tax to generate more funding for the town.

A hotel/motel tax or food and beverage tax have been ideas town leaders have said could produce financial improvements in Merrillville.

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