Editor’s Note: This report contains 911 transcriptions of various crime scenes that may be disturbing to read. WKBN believes that reporting this information relays to the reader the gravity of what emergency crews were dealing with and the impact of the crimes on parents and the community.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — It may have been the night of nights for Detective Sgt. Chris Staley, but the experience he gained managing two large crime scenes earlier this year came in handy those early morning hours of Aug. 18 when dealing with two different shooting scenes that saw two people killed, including a 10-year-old girl, and four others wounded.
Staley was the only supervisor on the road for city police on midnight turn Aug. 17 and 18, when nine people were shot in five separate shootings.
Two of those shootings after midnight on Aug. 18 killed a 10-year-old girl and wounded three others on Samuel Avenue as well as killing another man who crashed a truck into a utility pole at South and Palmer avenues. His passenger was wounded in the leg.
The calls came about five minutes apart. Police say both homicides are related.
Those shootings were part of a month that saw 30 people shot and a period of just over 24 hours, Aug. 17-18, that saw 11 people shot in five separate shootings, with two of those people killed.
WKBN has concentrated on that period of Aug. 17-18 and has reviewed all the 911 recordings, police reports and interviewed as many people as possible who were working those two nights.
Staley had already been involved with two shooting investigations the night before when three people in two separate shootings got themselves to St. Elizabeth Health Center. He was on Glenwood Avenue with another officer when the call for Palmer and South went out.
Staley and the other officer were on Interstate 680 and were just about to get off at South Avenue when the call came in that there was another shooting with multiple victims on Samuel Avenue.
With two cars already on Palmer and Samuel, Staley had to make a decision about where he should go, especially because one of those officers, Rob DiMaiolo, a 24-year veteran of the department, radioed in about the exact same time that the call on Palmer and South was a “Signal 1,” police code for a homicide.
But with reports of multiple victims on Samuel plus his familiarity with the house’s history for other shootings, he decided he and the other officer should head there instead. Plus, they were the closest officers.
“I can’t let the officer I was with go by himself to Samuel so I stayed with him,” Staley said.
If anyone has experience dealing with large crime scenes, it’s Staley. Promoted in February to detective sergeant after nine years on the department, the Hubbard High School graduate was moved from working vice to a road supervisor on midnights.
In April, he was in charge of the crime scene at the Club Utopia on East Midlothian Boulevard where one person was killed and three others wounded when a rapper who was performing inside was shot and killed.
The bar looks small, but it is “deep,” Staley said, and has a large indoor area. Officers were running in while people were running out, which makes it hard to preserve evidence.
“That makes for a chaotic scene,” Staley said.
On May 23, he was also the supervisor in charge when two people were killed and three others wounded at The Torch nightclub on Salt Springs Road. Although this scene was outside, there were several different areas where gunfire was exchanged, and there was a fatal accident about three blocks away at about the same time, which was later found to be unrelated to the gunfire.
“There were three separate crime scenes,” Staley said.
As Staley and the other officer were on the way to South Avenue, call takers in the city’s 911 center began to get a flurry of calls from people at the home on Samuel and some neighbors.
“I just heard gunshots, at least 10 of them,” a man who said he lives on Samuel told a call taker as his dog barked in the background.
Call takers had already called AMR and had them dispatch ambulances to Palmer and South. Now, they were back on the line to get more ambulances for Samuel.
“Please!” a woman said to one of the call takers. “We need emergency up here! My little sister just got shot!”
“My daughter is shot!” another caller says. “She’s 9 years old! She’s shot! Please hurry!”
“Is she breathing?” the call taker asks.
“I don’t know! I don’t want to go down there!” Then the woman says, “what?” and lets out a scream. “She’s dead?”
The call taker tells her help is on the way, but someone needs to go check on the child.
“What?” the woman says again. “She’s dead? Oh, no! My baby’s gone! My baby’s gone! Oh, God! Oh, God!”
The call taker tells her help is coming.
“We got shootings everywhere right now. They’re coming up there now.”
The woman is asked who is hurt.
“My baby and I and someone else.” There is crying in the background.
“Is the baby OK?” the call taker asks.
“They’re coming up there now. They’re coming up there now.”
Staley and the other officer rolled up and saw three people with gunshot wounds on the front porch. They told the officers about the girl who was inside, who they thought was dead.
“Over here we have three victims on Samuel right now,” Staley said on his radio.
Staley went inside and confirmed that the girl, Persayus Davis-May, 10, was dead inside from a gunshot wound.
By now, Staley has already radioed back “it’s pretty much a Signal 1 here” and is told Detective Sgt. Ryan Laatsch, the supervisor for the entire shift, is leaving the office and heading towards South Avenue. Staley tells Officer Mike Brindisi, the midnight turn dispatcher who declined to be interviewed for this story, to send Laatsch to Palmer and South. He will stay at Samuel.
At 2:32 a.m., another call is made to AMR. “I’m being told there are four victims all together on Samuel,” the call taker says to the AMR dispatcher. AMR runs out of ambulances. They have to ask for assistance from CAS ambulance service, which sends over a crew to help.
At 2:36 a.m., Brindisi calls Capt. Rod Foley, who was Chief of Detectives at the time and the detective supervisor on call, to tell him detectives and crime scene personnel will be needed.
“Captain, it’s Brindisi. We got four shot on Samuel, one dead, and two shot at South and Palmer with one dead.”
Foley says he is on his way.
On Samuel, Staley is trying to figure out how to have enough cars to guard two crime scenes and send cars to St. E’s to interview any victims who can talk or witnesses who may show up.
“We’re going to need everybody,” he tells Brindisi.
Later, Staley said the number one thing going through his mind was how to use the officers who were out on the road in the best way possible.
“What do I have at this scene that I can physically see and what do the officers here need?” Staley said. “I need to rely on them and they’re pretty good. Obviously, I can only be at one place at one time.”
One of the things he had to deal with on Samuel was a large crowd that was getting larger as people started showing up. More officers are directed there while Boardman is asked to help out at Palmer and South. They send two cars which are then sent to block off Palmer at Gibson.
While on his way to South Avenue from his home, Foley, who has been on the department for over 30 years and who has served as chief and chief of detectives twice, is already thinking that both scenes are connected.
“I was thinking they had to be connected because we got a double homicide and they’re not that far apart,” Foley said.
Like Staley, Foley also has to grapple with how to use the resources he has over two separate homicide scenes blocks away from each other.
“My biggest thing is who do we have to call out and do we have enough resources?” Foley said. He also has experience in dealing with large scenes. In his first stint as Chief of Detectives, he oversaw the investigation when someone shot up a frat party on the north side one frigid Super Bowl Sunday morning in 2011. One man was killed and 11 others were wounded.
He had already instructed a second set of personnel from the crime lab to respond to help collect evidence.
Additionally, multiple shooting victims means multiple people to interview at the hospital. An extra detective is called out to help with that.
“It gives you a good start on the investigation because once they get into surgery and recovery it can be three or four days before you can talk to them,” Foley said. “Sometimes after a couple of days, they may not want to cooperate.”
The scene at South and Palmer does not take long to process, so Foley heads to Samuel. There is a large crowd and a lot of work to be done there.
Staley also said the crowd was large but unlike at other scenes where large crowds are sometimes rowdy or very vocal, this one is not. Several people are standing on sidewalks or in yards, holding up umbrellas to hold off a light yet steady rain. There is not a lot of conversation. It is more of a solemn crowd than a sullen one. Even when the girl’s body is brought out, the typical gasps that often accompany such moments are absent.
That does not mean no one reacts, however. A woman is begging police to see the girl, who is covered with a sheet, one more time, saying “she’s my only daughter.”
In the midst of her shrieking, Detective Sgt. Dave Sweeney, one of the investigators called out on the case, says, “Ma’am,” very quietly. She quiets down. She and Sweeney talk. The body is bundled into a van belonging to the team that is contracted to remove bodies for the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office and is quietly driven away in the rain.
This is not Sweeney’s first child murder. He was the lead detective on the infamous Robert Seman case when Seman was charged with burning down a house in March of 2015 on the eve of a trial where he stood accused of raping a 10-year-old girl. The girl and her grandparents were killed in the fire. Seman later committed suicide in April 2017 by leaping off the fourth floor of the Mahoning County Courthouse just two days before his trial was to start in Portage County.
Although Foley stayed at Samuel for a couple of hours, the scene at South and Palmer and Gibson is still being held for him. He goes back a little after 4:30 a.m., and it is just then that veteran Crime Lab Officer Anthony Marzullo and others begin to collect several shell casings in the intersection that were initially found by officer Andrew Balog, who has been on the department for just a year and a half.
Often, Balog said even in the dead of night casings are not hard to find if they are on the pavement because they will glisten under the street lights, but it is another matter if they are in the grass of someone’s yard.
While investigators were not rushed at Samuel, Foley said he did not want to tie up the house more than was necessary because there were other children who were there and he wanted to make sure they had access to the house as soon as possible.
Foley said another worry he had was that there were no cars available if another serious call came over the air. But call records show neighboring departments, such as Girard and Austintown, were alerted to what was going on in the city and could respond to something if needed.
Foley said it took about four or five hours after he was called out to confirm the homicides were related. He said “video evidence” played a large part in confirming they were, but he would not be more specific. Later, police said they are looking for a maroon GMC-type SUV they think was involved in the shootings.
“It’s a tragedy,” he said.
As police guard both scenes, radio traffic decreases dramatically. At 3:05 a.m. the word comes in from the hospital that the four victims there are stable. At 4:42 a.m., about two and a half hours after the first call came in, Staley clears the scene on Samuel.
“Everyone on Samuel is in service,” Staley tells dispatch. His night is just about over. He only has one more thing to do before he gets some sleep.
This report is a four-part series targeting just over a 24-hour violent crime spree in the city of Youngstown. You can find a new installment each day from Monday to Thursday this week. To read previous installments, click the links below: