Lakeland Police Chief Sam Taylor holds up an image captured from video of the sedan used Monday afternoon in a drive-by shooting in the city. Screen capture courtesy of Lakeland Police Department/Facebook
Jan. 30 (UPI) -- At least four gunmen in a sedan opened fire on both sides of a street in "a challenged neighborhood" of Lakeland, Fla., injuring at least 10 people, including two critically, authorities said.
The drive-by shooting was reported to police in the 900 block near Iowa Avenue North and Plum Street in midtown Lakeland at about 3:43 p.m., one minute after children were dropped off on the street by a school bus, police chief Sam Taylor said during an evening press conference.
The victims were described as men between the ages of 20 and 35. Three victims were found at the scene. The others were transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center via personal vehicles. A quantity of marijuana was also found at the scene.
Two victims -- one of whom was shot in the abdomen and the other in the face -- were listed in critical condition, and at the time of the press conference were either in surgery or expected to be shortly, Taylor said.
Mass shootings are rare in Lakeland, home to some 115,000 people between Tampa and Orlando, with Taylor remarking that during his 34 years on the force he has never seen so many gunshot victims at one time.
"This is something that doesn't happen in Lakeland," he said.
"We consider ourselves to be a small town ... And when stuff like this happens it hits home with me a little bit that maybe we aren't a small town anymore and it's actually pretty sad."
Taylor said the car -- described as a dark blue, four-door Nissan with tinted windows and a temporary tag -- was rolling through the neighborhood when at least four gunmen inside rolled down all of the vehicle's windows and shot up both sides of the street in what he described as a targeted shooting.
The car did not stop during the drive-by and sped away afterward. Police were searching for the vehicle Monday night and have asked for the public's help in locating it.
"We think that the individuals in the car shot at and shot who they wanted to shoot," Taylor said. "It was an intentional act. It certainly wasn't a random, just a drive-by shooting and, like I say, things like this just don't happen in Lakeland but today it did, this evening it did, which is disappointing."
Asked how many rounds were fired during the shooting, Taylor said investigators were working to determine the exact number but "I can tell you a lot."
It was unknown if anyone returned fire at the sedan, he said, adding the only weapon located was a rifle seen "in plain sight" in one of the personal vehicles that had transported a victim to the hospital.
He said it is "certainly within the realm of possibilities" that the shooting is gang-related, but it is "too early" to make that conclusion though police are on high alert for the potential of a retaliatory attack.
It is also unknown if the marijuana found at the scene was related to the incident though Taylor said its presence suggests that the shooting occurred during some sort of drug transaction.
The neighborhood is known to police, he continued.
"It's an area that we've paid quite a lot of attention to over the past years," he said. "But it's tough. It's a tough neighborhood."
"We have put a lot of resources and manpower into trying to fix that and we'll continue to do so," he said.
Police had originally reported nine people were injured in the shooting, but later upgraded the casualty toll to 10 after another victim walked into the hospital with a ricochet wound.
The drive-by follows a series of mass shootings across the country. On Saturday, three people were killed and four others were wounded in a shooting in the upscale Beverly Crest neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Prior to the Lakeland drive-by, The Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit and non-advocacy organization, had reported 49 mass shootings in the United States during the first 30 days of the year.
Last year during the same time frame, there were 33 mass shootings, it said.