Police believe they have identified the suspect who they say fired multiple shots into a crowd during a Mobile football game on Friday night, Oct. 15.
During a press conference at Mobile Police Department’s headquarters, MPD Chief Paul Prine told media that they are searching for Hezekiah Kaniel Belfon, 19, who remains at large and has five warrants for attempted murder. Prine said he believes Belfon to be armed and dangerous and has asked that the public assist in locating him.
With 5:49 left in the Williamson-Vigor football game at the Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment Complex, gunshots began to ring out, sending spectators fleeing and football players taking cover on the ground. Five victims sustained gunshot wounds.
The victims consisted of two adults and three juveniles ranging from 15 to 17 years old. Four of the victims were transported to the hospital by ambulance and one victim by private vehicle.
As of Monday, Oct. 18, Prine reported that three of those victims have been released from the hospital. Of the two remaining victims, one is in stable condition and the other is in guarded condition. Investigators are still determining the caliber of the firearm used and how many shots were fired, Prine said.
Belfon was arrested earlier this year in another jurisdiction, Prine said. He was charged with carrying a concealed pistol without a permit and with receiving stolen property.
Prine said MPD is still seeking other suspects, though he did not provide their names. A photo released by the city on Saturday, Oct. 16, pictured three individuals captured on security camera footage at the stadium they asked the public to identify. On Saturday night, another suspect, Jai Montrell Scott Jr., 19, of Semmes, turned himself in. Prine said Scott has complied with investigators about his role in the incident and has provided other information. MPD arrested a 17-year-old juvenile allegedly involved in the shooting on Monday afternoon. The juvenile has been charged as an adult with five counts of attempted murder and has been transported to Mobile Metro Jail.
The third suspect, Hezekiah Kaniel Belfon, is still wanted in connection with the shooting at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Scott graduated from Vigor last year, Prine said. He said Belfon was a LeFlore High School graduate and attended the game with Scott. It was Vigor High School’s homecoming game.
Asked numerous times about what led up to this incident, Prine said repeatedly that the shooting is still under investigation and no clear motive is available. He added that there appeared to be an argument between two parties prior to an escalation to violence. He confirmed with Lagniappe that some of the victims were not involved and were caught in the crossfire.
Prine said law enforcement is still investigating how a gun was able to be brought into the stadium. He said the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) is responsible for the security detail at the stadium while MPD officers are present at the games to prevent crime and intervene. Prine deferred any comments to MCPSS as to whether or not that security detail functioned as intended.
As of press time, MCPSS has failed to provide any additional information or make an official statement on the shooting. MCPSS Communications Director Rena Philips briefly spoke with Lagniappe over the phone and said that security is a partnership between the Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment board. She asked that all other questions be submitted by email.
The final five minutes of the Vigor-Williamson football game were played Monday morning. On the last play Friday night, Vigor had intercepted a pass and had possession of the ball with 5:49 to play and a 28-12 lead. The game resumed Monday morning at Theodore High School’s football field. Vigor snapped the ball, took a knee, and both teams allowed time to expire to end the game.
Fans, students and media were locked out of the game for “safety reasons,” according to Philips. Prine told members of the media MPD did have additional officers at the game. However, he said there was no threat to the game and believes that the Oct. 16 shooting was an isolated case. He doesn’t believe the public is in danger and that they should be afraid to attend future events.
MCPSS has announced both games scheduled to be played at the stadium this week have been moved. Thursday’s game between B.C. Rain and Faith Academy, originally scheduled for Trimmier Park, had been moved to Ladd-Peebles because of field conditions at Trimmier Park. Now the game will be played at 7 p.m. at Theodore. Also, Friday’s game between LeFlore and St. Paul’s has been moved from Ladd-Peebles to St. Paul’s, also at 7 p.m.
It is not known at this time if next week’s games scheduled for Ladd-Peebles — the final week of games in the regular season — will be played there or moved to another location. Those games include a Thursday, Sept. 28 game between Fairhope and Murphy and a Friday, Oct. 29 game between Baldwin County and LeFlore.
Prine apologized to victims during the press conference, vowing that the city “will do better.” On Saturday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the city would use the resources of the Gulf Coast Technology Center to provide stricter security measures in the future.
Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment board Chairwoman Ann Davis called the shooting at the stadium Friday night “awful,” as questions remain about how the shooter got a gun into a football game full of fans.
“We’ll just leave it up to the police and the school system to see how to solve the problems,” Davis said.
The comments came as the only discussion of the incident at the previously scheduled board meeting on Monday. Following the meeting, Davis and stadium manager Vic Knight was asked after the meeting about security protocols at the stadium. Knight said while the board hires off-duty MPD officers for security on the premises, the Mobile County Public School System is responsible for security and metal detectors at the entrance to the stadium.
“They’re in charge of the high school games,” Knight said of MCPSS.
Davis added that the school system owns the metal detectors and sets them up before games and removes them after games.
Davis mentioned a shooting at the stadium following an August 2019 game between LeFlore High School and Williamson High School. The 2019 shooting injured 10.
“I’m not trying to point fingers, but the last time there was a shooting (at Ladd) it was Williamson,” she said. “Don’t you think that’s a school system issue or an issue for the principal or something?”
A potential deal between the University of South Alabama and the city was rejected by members of the Mobile City Council. The deal, presented as a letter of intent between the two sides, would’ve resulted in the city contributing a total of $10 million to USA over 20 years to help it build a new, on-campus stadium. In return, USA would’ve given the city $2.5 million to rebuild a smaller stadium on the site of Ladd. The council voted the deal down 4 to 3.
At the time, Councilman-elect William Carroll defended keeping the stadium intact and still does.
In an interview with Lagniappe on Monday, Carroll said there’s “still a place” for Ladd. Like many, Carroll questioned the security measures in place on Friday.
“We need tighter security,” he said. “Anything we need to do to protect students and fans is imperative.”
Carroll, who takes office on Nov. 1, said the city needs to do a better job at dealing with youth violence in the first place.
“We’ve talked about gunshot detection … but we’ve got to work to get guns out of the hands of those who would commit these crimes,” he said.
Dale Liesch contributed to this article
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