Mobile police announced Monday a person of interest had been identified in the Christmas night shooting that wounded four teenagers at the Wynnsong 16 theater on Schillinger Road.
Johnny Tyrece Vail, 17, was booked into Mobile Metro Jail on Dec. 27 but for charges unrelated to the shooting on Dec. 25.
Officials with the Mobile Police Department say those confirmed charges are related to two separate incidents on Lucille Street in October that led to Vail being charged with two counts of discharging a gun into an occupied residence.Both of those offenses are felonies, which means Vail will be processed as an adult. It is also the reason he had his identity released to the public.
Though he hasn’t been charged in connection to the events on Christmas day, police confirmed Vail was at the theater at the time the shooting occurred. The MPD is currently working with the Mobile County District Attorney’s office and further charges against Vail could be forthcoming.
The victims — a 14-year-old male, 14-year-old female and two 18-year-old males — are all said to be recovering from their injuries.
At a press conference Dec. 28, Mobile Police Chief James Barber said the shooting began with a confrontation between two male teenagers, but added the investigation has shown all four victims were hit by “indiscriminate gunfire.”
Barber said about half a dozen police officers were on the scene as the shots were fired because they had previously responded to reports of an unruly crowd of juveniles. Barber said off-duty officers at the theater reported close to 400 juveniles causing a disturbance in the parking lot and called for uniformed backup.
Many of the juveniles, who Barber said ranged in age from 8-18, were dropped off at the theater with no way to get home — something he said made it “very difficult” to disperse the crowd and control the situation.
“We do think it’s very irresponsible for kids to be dropped off at very young ages without rides home, because then they end up in the parking lots hanging out with teenagers,” Barber told reporters. “Christmas night is a big night for movies, and we don’t want to have a situation where we have a problem with teenagers going to the theater. The (issue) with this is that they had no intention of going to the theater. They were congregating in the parking lot.”
As the story broke in the later hours of Dec. 25, many on social media commented that the juveniles had been harassing those attempting to leave the theater. Barber confirmed the crowd had been unruly and had even thrown rocks at cars leaving the parking lot.
He also said it appeared to be an “organized gathering,” saying “there was a location picked.” Barber said this incident was very similar to one last year at the Hollywood Theater at McGowan Park, where an unruly crowd of teenagers gathered on the night of Dec. 25, 2014.
No one was injured during that incident, but Barber said shots were fired and police responded in riot gear to disperse the crowd. Comparing the two events, Barber said the lack of adult supervision and the number of teenagers with no way to leave made both incidents difficult to control.
In online discussions of the incident, some have criticized the theater — a “gun-free” zone — for preventing law-abiding gun owners from bringing weapons inside. Barber said the department has no issue with “responsible adults” exercising their “constitutional right to carry a weapon” but said the department remains concerned over juveniles having easy access to weapons.
“The biggest problem we have in all of our cities today is having youth with easy access to guns and clearly without the mental preparation for making decisions,” Barber said. “Some people keep guns in their cars and kids can break in to get them, but there are some that have access to them in their homes.”
Investigators with the MPD Cyber Intelligence Unit are currently “canvassing the area” around the theater in hopes of finding security camera footage of the incident.
The Wynnson 16 itself does not participate in Project Shield, a voluntary MPD program that gives the department real-time access to security camera footage. When asked, Barber said body camera footage from officers on the scene would not be released to the public.
The Mobile City Council has already planned a public safety committee meeting to discuss how to prevent issues like this in the future, but Barber said he currently isn’t sure how that might be achieved.
The events on Dec. 25 occurred shortly after 8:30 p.m., and Barber said the city’s curfew for teenagers wouldn’t have been in effect at the time.
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