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Gunshots spark concern over Knoxville Center

(WVLT)
Published: Jan. 21, 2019 at 5:00 AM EST
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North Knoxville residents got a wake up call from an alarm they didn't set. Some said they heard around 20 gun shots at 3:00 a.m. Monday.

"It sounded like somebody taking a baseball bat to my shed out there," Corey Gilbert, a North Knoxville neighbor said. "I started inspecting to make sure it wasn't on my property."

The Knoxville Police Department responded to the El Patron Event Center at the Knoxville Center Mall after receiving multiple reports of gunfire in the parking lot.

Police said shortly after 3 a.m. Monday morning, multiple callers to 911 reported gunfire in the parking lot of Knoxville Center Mall.

"I thought it was just kids being irresponsible," Gilbert said.

"It's just a shame that it's come down to something like this," Ronnie Collins, the president of the Alice Bell/Spring Hill Neighborhood Association, said. The neighborhood is just across the street from Knoxville Center.

When police arrived, witnesses told investigators that several people were firing weapons in the parking lot near El Patron Event Center at the mall.

Witnesses told police the center was hosting an "after party" following a show at Chilhowee Park earlier that day.

In an initial report, police said 20 gun shell casings were found on the scene. Then on Tuesday, police revised that number to 14. It was unclear whether investigators believed the number of shell casings they found indicated how many gunshots were fired Monday night.

In surveillance video owned by a neighbor and obtained by WVLT News. more than 20 gunshots could be heard coming from the parking lot on the night in question.

Investigators were not able to locate any victims on location and there were no reports of injuries as of Tuesday.

The gunfire is not the spark neighbors are looking for at the dying mall, "It's a downturn and drain on that part of town. It's time to see something fired up and happen there," Councilwoman Lauren Rider, from the 4th district, said. She's worried the mall is attracting crime, not shoppers.

Monday morning's shooting happened just outside the El Patron Event Center at the mall. "Seems to be attracting folks that carry guns and end up in fights with them," Rider said.

Rider and other neighbors want a mixed-use mall. Some have even thought office space or housing could do well to re-develop the area. "I would look at condos and townhouses and the opportunity to increase housing," Rider said.

She added that Knoxville Center has the zoning they need to bring in a mix of different businesses. "For whatever reason I'm not understanding, the current management hasn't attracted businesses back."

Collins said the owners were once open with the community about what they could bring to the area. But he says they've been harder contact recently. "Can't seem to get a hold of them and talk to them and they don't communicate with us at all," he said.

We have tried reaching out to the ownership group, but have not heard back as of Tuesday night.

Police said they were continuing to investigate the shooting incident.

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