MILLVILLE — Gunfire outside a low-income apartment complex Tuesday night left a Buena man dead and an 18-year-old wounded, the latest victims of shootings that have plagued the city for about a year.
The shootings occurred about two weeks after City Commissioner David Vanaman said local police increased their presence in neighborhoods troubled by gunfire. He said city officials have also asked other law enforcement agencies for help in stemming the shootings. Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said her office is providing assistance.
“I am concerned about what’s going on in Millville,” Webb-McRae said, adding that a “huge issue is that we have a proliferation of guns in the hands of people” who shouldn’t have firearms.
“That’s a concern to me,” she said.
Michael Valero, 21, died from a gunshot wound to the chest at Delsea Village Apartments, police said. It was the second fatal shooting there in less than four months. Police also said an 18-year-old who was in a vehicle with Valero suffered what they called a possible “graze” wound to a leg during the incident. Webb-McRae said authorities are not identifying that person for reasons related to the person’s safety.
Police said they went to Delsea Village on South Second Street about 8 p.m. Tuesday after getting reports of gunfire. They said they found Valero sitting in a car with a gunshot wound to the chest. Valero was treated by members of the Millville Rescue Squad, but died at the scene from his injury, they said.
Officials with the Southern Regional Medical Examiner’s Office and the city’s rescue squad removed the body shortly after 10 p.m., police said. The Southern Regional Medical Examiner’s Office serves Cape May and Cumberland counties.
No motive for the shooting was apparent, said police, who added that they are “pursuing leads” regarding suspects.
Residents of Delsea Village either declined comment about the incident or said they had no knowledge of what happened.
The last fatal shooting here occurred Oct. 8, when 17-year-old Tyler Bassett, of Bridgeton, was struck by a number of gunshots at about 9:30 p.m. in the 700 block of Buck Street. Authorities said they were not sure if Bassett was the intended target, as gunshots also struck a sport utility vehicle and three houses in the area. Webb-McRae said no arrests were made in connection with that incident.
The city has dealt with a number of other shootings during the past year, with most incidents occurring in the municipality’s center city area. Delsea Village is about a mile from that area.
In December, a Cumberland County grand jury indicted two men in the attempted slaying of local resident Harry T. Cook on April 6. Cook, of the 100 block of West McNeal Street, was shot in the forehead while walking in an alley behind South Third Street, authorities said.
Indicted on charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, possession of a controlled dangerous substance and other weapons offenses were 20-year-old local resident Gerald H. Moore and 19-year-old Obediah Thomas, of Bridgeton.
On Wednesday, Vanaman, who oversees the Police Department, said local authorities started what he called a “power shift” that began Jan. 16. That shift works at different times and at different locations throughout the city, he said.
“They are directed to wherever they are needed,” he said. “It just puts more bodies out there.”
The power shift is used most often in center city, Vanaman said.
“Center city has been, primarily, the problem area,” he said.
Asked if police would use the power shift around Delsea Village, Vanaman said, “Possibly, once they get all the details of what happened.”
Mayor Tom Shannon had made a pitch for a municipality-wide public safety effort during a State of the City speech to the local Kiwanis organization on Jan. 5. Shannon said city residents must “step up and help police” without fear of retaliation from persons who commit crimes.
Shannon said state legislators must reassess laws requiring mandatory prison time for nonviolent offenders. That could create more room in state prisons for what he called “violent offenders and gun offenders.”
The incident remains under investigation by Detective Felix Rivera, of the Millville Police Department, and Detective Ron Tobolski, of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office’s Major Crimes Unit. Anyone with information may contact Rivera at 856-825-7010, ext. 7330, or Tobolski at 856-641-5655.
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