By Shireen Fisher
Elsies River is on a knife-edge, as gang related shootings continue to unsettle the community. There are fears that gang warfare could deteriorate after the shooting of an alleged gang leader on Tuesday. Victor Bowers (35) also known as Fox, the leader of the Rebels gang, was shot as he was sitting in his car opposite the Reo Hotel in Halt Road.
Police said an unknown assailant fired shots at them. The man, who was seated behind the wheel of the car, was killed in the shooting. His female passenger was wounded and rushed to hospital. It’s believed that when police arrived on the scene they found 15 bullet casings, seven of which hit Bowers. Police are investigating a case of murder and attempted murder.
According to Elsies River Community Police Forum (CPF) public relations officer, Steve Ross, there are Whatapp messages doing the rounds urging people to stay out of the Leonsdale area, as “war is on the way”.
“There are people staying in Leonsdale so the area can’t be avoided. Telling people not to enter the area is unrealistic. But we are asking people to be alert and report any criminal activity that they may see,” he said.
The prevalence of gang violence continues to have a huge effect on the community.
“The major concern in the area is the culture of gangsterism and secondly the culture or perception that we cannot trust the police because people feel that they will become targets. So the two go hand in hand. Gangsterism is quite rife,” he said.
“On the other hand the community is in fear to report if they do observe things, so we as the CPF have a major task at hand, to get the community to stand together against gangsterism,” he added.
The community is also reeling after the shooting of a seven year-old girl who was caught in a crossfire on Sunday. The incident is just one of a spate of gang-related shootings in which innocent people are caught in the line of fire.
While various partners of the local CPF and religious leaders in the area have visited the parents of the slain 7 year-old, the community has taken steps to try and prevent further incidents from occurring.
“I think this has been a catalyst for working together amongst the community, especially the organizations and NPOs. Churches are coming together now to have holiday programs. For me that is very good,” said Ross.
Safety and security, however, is far from being a certainty, in the current unstable environment.
“It’s hard to guarantee safety in a community where drug activity and gangsterism is so rife. We still ask people to be vigilant, know where their kids are at all times and have adult supervision around,” stated Ross.
“What is a major problem, especially if there’s gang warfare or shooting breaking out, is that the community is very inquisitive and run toward the firing line and in that process become victims,” he added.
“We ask the community that if there are gunshots, to go indoors rather than running out.”
According to Ross, the recent events have led to large numbers of angered residents rushing out to join neighbourhood watches.
“I think the anger, based on what happened, is very strong, so that’s what is going to drive people out to be part of neighbourhood watches. My concern is that we do not have to run this on emotion all the time. Neighbourhood watches should be constantly growing groups of people and people should not only rush to stand together for a short period after a major incident like this one. That is our call. Not only just to respond or be reactive in crisis but to be there throughout the year and to grow,” he said.
In a message to the community of Elsies River, Ross pleaded for togetherness, saying: “We ask people to be vigilant, to support the police and to work together and to see that children are safe.”