July 15, 2017 10:05:10 PM
Gail Deloach didn't sleep much Thursday night. It seems very few people who live on Florence Street did.
Pacing in her front yard in east Columbus Friday afternoon, she kept glancing across the street -- first toward one neighbor's house and then to another.
"It's not a bad neighborhood," she insisted. "Just bad things happen. They don't pick where. They just happen."
Florence Street has seen its share of "bad things." Two shooting deaths, in fact, have occurred in the last 19 months far too close to Deloach's front steps for comfort.
On Thursday afternoon, at a house across the street from Deloach's, 12-year-old Lagarius Morris died after his 13-year-old relative apparently shot him by accident with a 5.56-caliber rifle. The boys and their friends found the gun stored on a high shelf in the home.
In January 2016, Columbus police found 25-year-old Brandon Gordon shot dead behind another home across the street from Deloach. Officers later arrested 24-year-old Leronn Gregory in the incident.
In each of the last five years, Florence Street has featured in a shooting incident, including a 2013 drive-by at a house there, and incidents elsewhere in Columbus in 2014 and 2015 in which Florence Street residents were arrested.
That kind of neighborhood reputation is not what Deloach signed up for when she and her husband bought their home 12 years ago.
"When I moved here, I was so excited to get away from the city," she said. "We're still in the city, but not so close by everybody rippin' and roarin'."
As admittedly sad and "scary" as some things on Florence Street have been lately for Deloach, she said she isn't afraid.
She walks down the street at night, she said, and she allows her grandsons to play at other neighbors' houses when they are visiting.
But the shootings, accidental or otherwise, still trouble her.
"I don't know what's wrong with Florence Street," she said. "Maybe we need to change the name to another name.
"I like the neighbors, and I was bragging to everybody (when I moved here)," she later added. "But lately I can't say nothing because you don't know what's going on at your next door neighbor's house."
A hectic scene
The scene Friday afternoon on Florence Street was serene. A few residents either sat on their porches or under their carports, while others worked in their yards.
That was far from the case Thursday afternoon, when what neighbors described as a scene of organized chaos unfolded in the wake of Morris' shooting death.
Crowds of neighbors gathered around the police-taped scene, among them Stacye -- who said she has lived on Florence Street for three years but declined to give The Dispatch her last name.
When Stacye saw the tape, she knew a gun was involved. Moments later, when she saw the rifle police officers carried from the house, she said she knew the likelihood of someone surviving a shot from that type of weapon was slim.
"It was an assault rifle," she said. "It's something you see on Rambo. It's not something you'd think somebody (would have) at their house. It looked like something the military is supposed to have."
A 'very mannerable' boy
On Friday, several vehicles were parked in front of the house on the south end of the street where Morris lived with his mother and grandmother -- just a few blocks away from the home where the shooting occurred.
Morris, who Stacye called "G-Baby," was among a group of pre-teens and teenagers who gathered daily on Florence Street, playing basketball, football and carrying on in the presumed innocence of childhood.
"This wasn't somebody they saw in passing. They interacted with him every day," Stacye said. "It's horrible to see these kids lose somebody that they really loved. It hurts.
"And with a mother losing a child ... I wonder, 'How do you go on?'" she later added.
Stacye's own sons, ages 12 and 13, were close to Morris, she said. Morris often ate at her home, and she remembers many occasions when she would find Morris and her oldest son sitting under the carport talking.
Morris, Stacye said, was the type of young man who said "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" and never got into serious trouble.
"He was very mannerable," she said. "You could tell (his mother and grandmother) instilled those values in him."
Stacye's sons were in West Point visiting grandparents on Thursday. She said she didn't have the stomach to tell them "G-Baby" was gone, so she left it to her 16-year-old daughter.
At 1 a.m. Friday, however, Stacye talked on the phone with her oldest son, who was struggling to come to grips with the situation.
"It ain't real to me," Stacye recalled her son saying. "He can't be gone."
A teaching moment
Police are investigating the Morris shooting as an accident, and no one has been arrested.
However, another Florence Street resident, Pamela Billups, said the incident highlights the importance of teaching gun safety to children.
"We should have somebody to come and discuss with our students gun safety," said Billups, who is a teacher in West Point. "What goes on and could possibly happen if we were in this situation, what to do."
Stacye said the issue is deeper than that. Her boys hunt, she said, and she's taught them not to play with guns or point them at people. She's told them to leave immediately if they are ever around other kids who are playing with a gun.
But to avoid incidents like Thursday's, she said neighbors have to more vigilantly take care of neighbors.
"Something like that is hard to explain to your child. It was irresponsible, and he got killed," she said. "If you know there's a gun in the house, I don't care what shelf it's on. I don't care where it is. Kids are going to be curious. You can tell them, 'Don't touch it. Don't look at it. Don't show nobody' and they're going to do it anyway.
"You can teach them kids from here to forever, but they're going to do what they want to do to impress their friends. And I think that was the case," she added. "... When somebody else's kids are at your house, you have to be cautious. You have to be just as cautious as if they were yours."