Fatal shooting stuns family, neighbors
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent April 12, 2013 11:44AM
Depree Dalton holds of photo of his son Depree Mims outside his Merrillville home Wednesday April 3, 2013. Mims, 14, was shot in the head while at home with his family and later died of his wounds. Four people are facing charges in what police believe was a gang initiation shooting. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 14, 2013 6:02AM
MERRILLVILLE — By all accounts, Depree Dalton and Naomi Mims are protective, loving parents to their eight children, including 14-year-old Depree Mims.
Police said if Depree Mims wanted to go to their East Chicago church, his parents made sure his siblings went with him.
The family moved from Gary to its home in the 7500 block of Marshall Street in Merrillville three years ago because it’s a nice, quiet street, Dalton said.
But none of the precautions taken by his parents could save Depree from becoming a victim of an act of violence in his own home, allegedly committed by gang members. The Pierce Middle School student was shot in the head March 27 when a spray of bullets was fired from outside. He was retrieving a blanket for a sibling while the family settled down to watch a movie at the time.
Police say the shooting was a gang initiation and do not believe the boy was the intended target.
Four suspects remain behind bars and town officials talk of ramping up efforts to obtain new funding sources to bolster their understaffed police force. And some neighbors have begun to worry about the safety of their own families for the first time.
Dalton said Depree hoped to join the basketball and football teams next year when he would have been a freshman at Merrillville High School. He was practicing his dancing moves in preparation of joining the dance team at the family church, Greater Destiny Bible Church in East Chicago.
“He always helped with his sisters and brothers. He was a perfect child, all that anyone could ask for,” Dalton said.
Depree’s aunt, Yolanda Hogan, of Merrillville, said he was a good kid in school and a joy to be around.
Police described Depree as a well-mannered and respectful youth who stayed away from trouble.
Police say Depree wasn’t the intended victim in the shooting. They say a gang member had been robbed and believed the perpetrator lived at the Marshall Street address.
Matthew Knight, 16, Kevin Brown, 18, both of Merrillville, Joshua Addison, 21, and Anthony Addison, 22, both of Gary, were charged with murder and criminal gang activity through the Lake County Prosecutor’s office and are at Lake County Jail. Police say Knight had been expelled from school.
A quiet neighborhood
Across the street from the Mims house, ducks snuggle against a chain link fence containing them to the yard. Around the corner, Jonas Salk Elementary School is filled with young children. The street is peaceful, with no visible signs of gang graffiti or any other indication that the middle-class neighborhood was the scene of a crime, except that is, for police officers talking outside the Mims house one recent morning.
On the next block, two neighbors worked on a car, unaffected by the police activity taking place.
“I’m not worried. I see people of all races walking down the street. There’s never been any trouble,” one of the men said.
The other concurred, saying he’s lived at his current house about 10 years and it’s always been a peaceful neighborhood. Neither wanted to give his name.
Others weren’t so confident.
“I’m starting to worry. I wonder about the kids going out to play,” said Melissa Buckrop, who lives in the same Independence Hill neighborhood and stopped while driving by to say how sorry she was for the Mims family.
“I felt safe. I haven’t heard of any crimes around here and haven’t seen any signs of gang activity. But this makes me nervous,” said Sapphyre Hendrix, a Merrillville High School student who lives in the same block as the Mims.
Call to action
Detective Ray Smith said the Independence Hill neighborhood is not a high crime area and he doesn’t see the shooting as the start of a gang problem in Merrillville. He said police have stepped up patrols in the area.
Still, two Town Council members attending a recent press conference on the shooting want to be proactive.
Councilwoman Chrissy Barron, D-5th, who represents the area, said she is planning to meet with Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and leaders of other communities in the area that have had similar problems.
“We need help,” Barron said.
The budget-strained town has been seeking ways to raise money to hire additional police officers, including instituting a hotel/motel tax just for that purpose. Council members discovered their efforts weren’t allowed by state law, however.
Councilman Richard Hardaway said the council needs to try again, this time appealing to state lawmakers as a united group.
“It will take all seven of us going to Indianapolis to meet with the powers that be, to sit down in a room and figure out what we can do to bring more money into the town to hire more police officers,” Hardaway said. “We need to show unity.”
Hardaway said the town is short a lot of police officers, but wasn’t sure of the number.
He said the town needs to pay close attention to what’s going on, pointing out the public works department removes gang graffiti as soon as someone sees it.
“It’s very unfortunate this incident happened. It’s tragic. But we need to go beyond talking, and I’m speaking only for Richard Hardaway,” he said.
“We don’t need this. It’s a sad thing to say that we have it,” Barron said.
Depree was laid to rest Tuesday and the Merrillville Town Council began its meeting Tuesday night with a moment of silence for him and his family. The council also had words of praise for the police officers whose work resulted in four young men being charged with murder and criminal gang activity in connection with Depree’s death.