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Charlotte feels the impact as shootings into occupied properties rise

 Denise Russell was shot in July by a bullet that entered through near her bedroom window.
Denise Russell was shot in July by a bullet that entered through near her bedroom window.

In Denise Russel l's bedroom in her west Charlotte apartment , the 51- year-ol d point ed to the TV and dresser in front of her window. It m ight seem strange to block the room’s only source of natural light w ith fur niture, but after what happened during the early hours of July 10, it makes sense to h er.

"That particular night I heard something say 'boom!' And then when I woke up, it felt like my leg had exploded," she s aid . "Blood was everywhere. And thank God that I always have my phone and I was able to call 9 1 1 and tell them what happened."

While she was asleep, Russell was struck by a bullet shot through t hat bedroom window. According to the police report, the bullet was fired by a rifle. She s aid she spent five days in the hospital , and she still experiences pain from where the bullet entered her upper right thigh.

She point ed to her neatly made bed , which she says she no longer sleeps in.


These days , she sleeps on the couch in the living room.

Russell believes her apart ment wasn’t targeted , but rather was the backdrop for a shooting between two groups of young people fighting outside.

"I'm thinking, maybe that particular night it occurred, it worked up to be an altercation ," s he said. "And they were shooting at each other... and then hit me . And then, you know, I had to put the police report up because every time I look at it, I'm like, who could have did this?"

Last year, there were 927 shootings into occupied properties in Charlo tte, accordi ng to polic e. Th at's a 75% increase since 2018 , when there were 530.

So far this year , there have been 729 shootings into occupied properties — which is on pace to meet or exceed last year’s total.

C ha rlo tte -Mec klen b urg poli ce Maj . Ryan Butler , who oversees the Special Investigations Bureau , sa i d these shootings have a certain level of social apathy that’s concerning.

"You're going to a structure, you don't necessarily know whether the person that you are in confrontation with is present , and you don't care who else may be present or not present," he said. "Which is why we end up with small children and innocent people hurt and killed in these situations."

Then there are the cases like Russell’s. There are situations , Butler sa id , where people are shooting at each other in a public area and someone’s home, apartment or hotel just happens be in the background.

"We get that in single - family residential communities , as well, where there's a target and either the house behind them gets struck or houses that are on either side get struck," Butler said.

Butler sa id these incidents are l ikely drug or gang related. In other ca se s , the shootings are connected to domestic issues.

"If you are dating somebody and you stop dating that person and you start dating a new person, they don't take it out on you — they come and take it out on the new person that you're dating who has not necessarily had any interaction with your old dating partner," he said. "And they'll come to their house and shoot their house or shoot their car."

Victims tend to be young and male, but he’s quick to point out that’s not always the case. These types of shootings happen all over. According to data from CMPD , from January 2021 to August 2021, there are clusters of shootings into oc cupied hom es on the west side of the city.

Butler sa id that the pandemic has played a major role in the rise of these shootings . Facto rs like everythi ng from court systems working at reduced capacities to schools being virtual last year creating less structure and accountability for students t o fights on social media that spill into the real world play a part.

"During the pandemic, life as we knew it completely changed," he said. "I mean, this isn't a new problem . It's not like this wasn't a problem before. There's been greater awareness brought to the problem because the problem has increased."

Another contributing factor is the fact that more guns are on the streets, sa id James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. His research focuses on gangs, violence and policing.

"Just last year, in 2020, Americans purchased a record 23 million guns," Densley said. "That's up 60 - plus percent from 2019. And a lot of their sales are driven by first-time gun buyers. There’s just literally more guns on the streets."

Densley sa id gun - storage safety is also an issue. When guns aren’t stored properly , it creates an opportunity for people who shou ldn't have firearms to have them — like minors.

"Young people , by virtue of their age , should not be in possession of firearms, but they can beg, borrow and steal them from their parents and from their friends and family members because they're not being stored safely," he said. "And that, in turn, creates the risk that these types of crimes would occur."

Every time a shooting happens , Densley sa id , it shakes the foundation of a community and adds to the trauma of that neighborhood. T h i s is something Russell knows all too well. Just t hree months after she wa s shot, s he struggles with survivor’s guilt. She points to the story of a 3-year-old boy who was shot and killed in September while he slept inside his home in northwest Charlotte. Police sa id 150 rounds of bullets were shot into the home that was occupied by 11 people.

"And when that baby died , it took me to another place all over again. Because I lived 51 years and he only lived to be 3, and I still feel guilty for that, because why him and not me?" she said through tears.

And then there’s the financial impact this has taken. Russell has been out of work since the shooting. Insurance has helped some, but she’s not sure how she’s going to continue to make rent.

"I'm still struggling," she said. "I'm like, OK, do I get my blood pressure medicine or do I buy me something to eat?"

When she can save again, she wants to buy a motion - activated camera to help monitor the activity on her street. Just last month , there was a homicide on her street. She remembers hearing four gunshots.

"But I froze because every time I hear a noise, especially a gunshot, I can't move. I'm stuck," she said. "And then the police officers were knocking on the door trying to see if we saw anything. And I'm like, 'Dang, only if you would have had something outside because there's so much activity to go on the street right here. '"

If she could afford it, she thinks she might move. But crime happens everywhere, and she doesn’t want to run away from her neighborhood.

O utside h er apa rtment bui lding, she point ed to the round hole where the bullet entered her bedroom. The property management has offered to repair the hole she sa id , but she told them to leave it.

If they fix it, she sa i d , it would be like telling herself that it didn’t happen.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

At this point in her life, Sarah considers home to be a state of mind—not one place. Before joining the WFAE news team, she was hosting and reporting in the deep south in Birmingham, Alabama. In past lives she was a northerner having worked and lived in Indiana, Maine, and New York City. She grew up in Virginia and attended James Madison University in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.