‘Do I feel safe?’: Leap Day shooting is the most recent of 5 gun deaths in Westport in the past 4 years

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a question asked in Kansas City over and over again.

“Do I feel safe?” Mark Mathews said as he stood at Westport Road and Mill Street, in view of his high rise apartment. “I’ve lived here for so long in this area, I don’t feel unsafe.”

Around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 29, a person in a white SUV traveling on Mill Street near the intersection with Westport Road fired a gun out of his vehicle, hitting five people. One of them died, becoming Kansas City’s 25th homicide of 2020. 

An off-duty officer saw the shooting, and returned fire. The SUV was found a short time later at 39th and Main, half a mile away. Police took one person into custody.

Police said the shooting victim on Mill Street is a man, but officers have not released the man’s name. Of the other four people shot, two men are in critical condition, one man is in stable condition, and a woman has non-life threatening injuries.

Despite the fact that five people were struck down in a barrage of bullets early Saturday morning, the entertainment district is busy again on Saturday night.

Westport markets itself as “the original and authentic Kansas City.”  It was the western-most village when the town was just forming, a place where settlers could stock up before venturing into the Kansas territory.

Now, its known for “partying, getting drunk, and picking up girls or guys,” Mathews, a 30-year resident of the area, said.

And in the first 90 minutes of of Leap Day 2020, it was known as the site of yet another killing in Kansas City.

“Pop, pop, pop — very fast,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was gunshots.”

Mathews said he heard the shots through his open window. However, he said he doesn’t feel any less safe living where he does.

“It could happen anywhere, really. It’s just that people congregate here,” he said, gesturing toward the bars just east of the Mill and Westport Road intersection. “Younger people that like to party congregate down here. And somethings are going to happen; it’s unacceptable for that to happen, but those things happen.”

Based on previous reporting, this makes at least four shooting deaths in Westport since 2016, with more than a dozen people injured.

  • Six people were reportedly shot in the early hours Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. No one was killed. Police took 2 into custody
  • Two people killed in overnight shooting near Mill Street and Southwest Trafficway in Westport around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, 2016.
  • Off-duty Officer Thomas Orr, 30, was shot and killed at Californos Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue during an argument on the patio on Sunday night, Aug. 20, 2017 at about 9 p.m. Another woman was injured.
  • Police investigated a double shooting that near Westport Road and Pennsylivania Avenue early Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. Two victims were found in stable condition. A suspect was caught.
  • Zach Pearce, 24, was shot and killed during a robbery Sunday night on Dec. 3, 2017 near 40th and Walnut.
  • Shortly after 3 a.m., off-duty officers found someone had been shot near the parking garage at 4050 Mill Street on Saturday, June 15, 2019. They were taken to the hospital in critical but stable condition.
  • An overnight shooting in Westport left four people with injuries and one person dead early Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 after the killer fired from an SUV. A suspect was later caught.

FOX4 tried to talk to several businesses at the Mill and Westport Road intersection. They directed questions to the Westport Regional Business League. Westport Public Security directed questions to Kansas City Police.

Westport released the following statement Sunday morning:

“There are no words to express our sadness about an incident like this in our city. While the incident occurred outside where enhanced screening is performed, the screenings are not conducted in the wintertime, when outdoor crowds are typically smaller. The screenings will resume in the Spring. Unfortunately, this incident started with customers at Throwback, where there was an altercation inside. Once they exited the garage in their vehicle, around 1:30 a.m., they started shooting outside the vehicle’s window at people involved with the dispute. Police and security in the area acted quickly and were able to intervene to put an end to this critical incident. Our hearts and prayers go out to those impacted, especially the injured bystander. This is an ongoing investigation. We’ll continue to work with police as safety and security are paramount.”

Mike Russell walked northeast on Westport Road, away from Mill Street around 1:30 Saturday afternoon, just 12 hours after the shooting happened. He was visiting from Topeka. 

“I like Kansas City,” he said “Everyone I talk to is very nice.”

In the afternoon sun, with a pane of broken glass replaced, the shooting already seemed like a distant memory. People walked on the sidewalk, oblivious to the chalk circles denoting shell casings along the sidewalk and road. For people who had never been here before, like Russell and Ronnie Wonder, it was like it never happened.

“If we actually enjoy our time here today, I don’t think it will stop us from coming back to this area,” Ronnie said. “But I don’t think that we will be coming here late at night after hearing that.”

Westport officials have taken great pains to increase security in the district. Notably, between April and October, they now block off Pennsylvania and Westport Road to car traffic, allowing pedestrians to roam between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. They added six checkpoints with metal detectors, including at Mill and Westport Road. The City of Kansas City also agreed to let Westport privatize its sidewalks as a way to reduce violence.

Both Mark Mathews and Mike Russell attributed the shooting to guns. 

“Shootings are getting to be way too common,” Russell said. “It’s just happening way too much, and something needs to be done about it.”

“That’s a new variable going into this,” Mathews said. “Guns seem to be more prevalent than they used to. Back when I was coming up, do you know people used to actually fight you know with fists? They don’t do that anymore. They just shoot you.”

“Guns are here to say stay, I’m sorry to say. They’re not going anywhere,” he continued. “And there’s so many of them. I don’t know how you solve the problem. It’s not going to be solved, I don’t think, unless there is some dramatic legislation that everyone buys into.”

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