JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A 22-month-old boy was killed after he was caught in the middle of what authorities call a gang-related drive-by shooting near the Jacksonville Sports Complex Friday evening.
The child was with his mother and grandmother inside a car parked in the 700 block of Spearing Street about 6:10 p.m. when a nondescript vehicle pulled up and someone inside opened fire at a nearby home, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Several rounds went into the car.
The baby, who was struck multiple times in the shoulder and abdomen, was rushed into surgery at UF Health afterward, JSO Chief of Investigations Tom Hackney told reporters at a news briefing Friday night. Authorities announced the child's death Saturday morning.
No one else was hurt.
"The only one hit in this entire barrage of bullets was this little 22-month-old," said Hackney. "This little boy, Aiden Michael McClendon, has got my prayers tonight."
Police suspect the child and his family were caught in the path of a gang-related shooting targeting someone else, the chief told reporters. "We believe someone was at this house tonight that was an intended target of this drive-by shooting," he said.
Hackney said homicide and gang unit detectives are interviewing people inside the home and neighboring homes, trying to track down those responsible. Lt. George Grant said a white vehicle was spotted fleeing the scene west down Albert Street.
But the chief implored friends and family of the suspect or suspects involved to come forward, urging them to help put the shooters behind bars.
"I want them to know that they could be taking the life of a 22-month-old tonight," said Hackney before the child died. "There's no excuse for that. Pick up the phone, call the Sheriff's Office, let us know what you know. Turn these people in, they don't deserve to be walking the same streets that you and I walk."
Hackney acknowledged the shooting was one of several Friday night and the second time this week a child has been involved in a "senseless" act of violence, citing the shooting deaths Wednesday of a couple in a car whose 6-month-old was found alive in the back seat.
Two people, a 17-year-old boy and a man in his 60s, were wounded in a drive-by shooting in the Durkeeville neighborhood about 8:30 p.m. Both are expected to recover.
"I can't say whether they're related or not, but I can say that this particular case, it just exemplifies that this reckless, raw behavior on a chilly night like this is beyond excuse," the chief said.
A man in his 20s was also shot in the face during an attempted robbery in west Jacksonville just before midnight Friday. His injuries were not life-threatening but his condition is unknown.
No information at this time links any of the shootings, but police held a press conference Saturday at noon to address the outbreak of violent crime in the city. Fourteen people have been murdered in Jacksonville since the start of the year as of Jan. 31.
Anyone with information on any of these shootings is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 630-0500 or Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS. You can remain anonymous and you could receive a reward for information leading to an arrest.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $20,000 reward at this time for any information that leads to the arrest of McClendon's killer,