Crime

Gang war continues: Shooting near church ‘violated sacred ground,’ police chief says

Pastor implores gang members to put down their guns

Pastor DJ Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church implores gang members to put down the guns and reach out to their churches following Saturday’s shooting of Zurich Chatman outside Pilgrim Church of God in Christ in southwest Fresno.
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Pastor DJ Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church implores gang members to put down the guns and reach out to their churches following Saturday’s shooting of Zurich Chatman outside Pilgrim Church of God in Christ in southwest Fresno.

A 20-year-old man was critically injured Saturday morning when he was shot in the head close to a southwest Fresno church, the latest salvo in the city’s violent and escalating gang war.

“We have a young man in the hospital fighting for his life,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a news conference in front of Pilgrim Church of God in Christ.

Fresno police responded to multiple 911 calls and a ShotSpotter alert to the 2200 block of Lee Avenue for eight shots heard in the neighborhood, Dyer said. When officers arrived, they found Zurich Chatman of Fresno lying in the road next to a van with a gunshot wound to his head, Dyer said.

“He was transported to the hospital and is undergoing surgery at this time,” the chief said at midday. He was still in surgery at 3 p.m. Saturday, Community Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Mary Lisa Russell said.

The shooting erupted around 10:16 a.m. when the adult son and daughter of a minister at Pilgrim Church, located on the same block, were preparing to go out of town. Chatman, who is the boyfriend of the minister’s daughter, was preparing to join them on the trip when he was struck by at least one of eight rounds fired from a passing car.

“It was at that time that the vehicle drove off northbound on E Street,” Dyer said. He said officers stopped a vehicle matching the description given by witnesses but determined it was not connected to the shooting.

Dyer said the shooting itself is a tragedy, as is the fact that it occurred less than 100 feet from a church. “An area that is always considered sacred ground, unfortunately someone violated that today,” he said.

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Saint Rest Baptist Church pastor DJ Criner, right, speaks out against gang violence with Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer standing in the middle, following the drive-by shooting of Zurich Chatman outside Pilgrim Church of God in Christ on Saturday morning, Feb. 10, 2018 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Standing on either side of Dyer at the news conference were two pastors who have made citywide efforts to end violence in their communities: Pastor B.T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church and Pastor D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church.

“They’re the ones that really are the heart and soul of this community in west Fresno,” Dyer said.

Lewis said he came out to the shooting scene because he’s deeply concerned about the families in the community, particularly Chatman’s family and the church’s family. “There’s never a reason for this kind of violence,” he said, calling the acts of violence “senseless.”

He added, “We really have some on-the-ground work that we need to do in all of the communities of our city that are harmed by violence.”

Criner said he and Lewis are standing together to support their community publicly, but they are weary of seeing their young brothers and sisters being “shot down for nothing.”

You gotta put down that gun, you gotta pick up some sense.

Pastor DJ Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church

Reconciliation does not mean retaliation, Criner said. “It means you seek an end to the evil for the sake of good.”

Violence continues to have an effect on the families of victims long after they lose a loved one, he said. “To the children who now don’t have a father in their home,” he said, “it causes a ripple effect.”

He urged those who want to “settle something” to come to their churches. “You’ve been asking where we are? We’re here.”

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Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer hugs and speaks to Caleb Martin, a congregation member of Pilgrim Church of God in Christ, before addressing the media following the drive-by shooting of Zurich Chatman outside the church Saturday morning, Feb. 10, 2018 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Dyer said the department is “very confident” that shootings on Thursday and Friday are linked to Saturday morning’s shooting. Police have reason to believe Chatman’s activities in the area recently led to him becoming a target for violence. He provided no additional information, and did not say if the victim is gang affiliated.

Compared to last year, Dyer said, Fresno had recorded 23 percent fewer shootings – until Thursday. Since then, about 10 shootings have occurred, killing one and injuring six. He believes those shootings have been retaliatory.

On Friday after a rolling gun battle closed a portion of Blackstone Avenue for hours, Dyer said 75 officers are going to be on alert for more gang violence throughout the weekend in an effort to stop the series of retaliatory shootings.

“There’s no shortage of effort on our part to try to suppress the violence,” he said Saturday. “We’re going to stop at nothing to stop this violence.”

Jessica Johnson: 559-441-6051, @iamjesslj

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