Del Ray moves forward after shooting that rocked the neighborhood

Del Ray moves forward after shooting that rocked the neighborhood
A photo of the community walk held the night of the shooting on June 14 (courtesy photo)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | 

Del Ray residents don’t want you to remember the neighborhood by what happened at Eugene Simpson Field on June 14.

Inhabitants of the neighborhood still express disbelief that something like the shooting that left five injured on a public field where little league teams play could happen just a short walk from its quiet streets. They describe the community as welcoming and close-knit.

“There are a lot of questions. Why? Why here? Why this neighborhood?” Keith Burner, who lives in the 200 block of Monroe Avenue, said. “This is quiet Del Ray – it’s not a big metropolitan city. This is our quiet little neighborhood.”

But, since the events of last week, Del Ray has been working to come together. Residents and business owners say they’ve unified even more in the wake of tragedy.

“We pull together and it has made us stronger and more determined that we don’t get hopeless or cynical,” Gayle Reuter, who has lived in the neighborhood since the mid-1980s and is deeply involved with events like First Thursdays and Taste of Del Ray, said. “We know that, no matter what happens, good will prevail.”

That sentiment led residents to organize a community walk on the evening of the shooting. Reuter said several hundred individuals showed up for the 6:30 p.m. walk, which ended with a prayer at the St. Andrew and St. Margaret Anglican Catholic Church at 402 E. Monroe St.

“I think the feeling was – and it was coming from different directions – ‘what can we do? I don’t want to be by myself.’” Reuter said.

Reuter said the goal of the walk – and other community-building efforts that the neighborhood has made in the week since the shooting – is to not let hate win.

“We’re even more determined to show that everyone is welcome,” Reuter said. “Sadly, there is hatred and such division. They’re not going to win. There’s such a minority of these people and so many more people that want a community and country that is one of love and kindness.”

Dennis Belmont, president of the Del Ray Business Association, said the reaction to the shooting has been overwhelming.

“Everyone, both in the business community and residents, is looking around and saying ‘how can we help? Who needs support?’” Belmont said.

Belmont said the Del Ray Business Association is looking to contribute in any way it can in the aftermath of the shooting and is looking into potentially raising funds for employees of the East Monroe Avenue businesses that were closed after the shooting – Aldi, CVS, Swing’s Coffee and the YMCA.

“These are employees that, if they can’t come to work, they don’t get paid,” Belmont said. “They are the ones that hurt the most if something like this happens.”

Belmont said he was also heartened to see businesses like Pork Barrel BBQ stepping up to feed police and FBI investigators on the scene for free.

He said, if there’s anything that those from outside of Del Ray should know, it’s that the shooting doesn’t represent what the neighborhood is about.

“That’s the antithesis of who we are. It’s an overwhelmingly Democratic area, but there are plenty of Republicans and plenty of dialogue and respect for each other,” Belmont said. “For the most part, there’s a lot of respect.”

A Del Ray resident who is a senior staffer for a conservative Republican senator, who asked to remain anonymous, said the shooting on June 14 was unnerving to him for more than one reason.

“I have two little kids who play in the area. We’re in that area all the time,” he said. “As a parent, as a father, it’s your worst nightmare. As a staffer who works for a senator who is high profile and is Republican, it’s your worst nightmare. It hit home for a lot of us.”

Some media reports, including a recent article in The New York Times, have called into question how accepting Del Ray is to its Republican and more conservative neighbors.

The senior staffer said he hasn’t felt that way in his seven years of living in the neighborhood. He said that the correct response to this incident is not blaming one political side or another.

“I worry that the correct response is not what the country’s response will be,” he said. “You saw it almost immediately. The left is saying it’s conservatives’ fault, the right is going after liberals. You’d hope that people are able to put those differences aside and debate real policy, but it seems, again, that people will go back to their echo chambers.”

On Tuesday evening, Del Ray sought to make it clear what the neighborhood was about by reclaiming Eugene Simpson Stadium Park ahead of an All-star Little League game scheduled for 7 p.m.

The message that evening was that Del Ray residents wouldn’t let the incident define them.

“Violence doesn’t win,” Kate Moran, who was volunteering at the event, said. “We have to come out to support our community.”

Morgan Broman, a former little league coach that attended the event, said Del Ray will continue to be the close community it always has.

“One person with a grudge and a gun can’t take that away