STARKVILLE — Ben Carver was watching a league baseball game in 2019 when there was a shooting at McKee Park.
“My son was on second base, and we had to duck for cover,” he recalled.
After Tuesday’s shooting at the park — which police believe resulted from gambling over a basketball game on the outdoor courts at about 9:11 p.m. — the Ward 1 alderman suggested permanently shutting down the basketball and tennis courts.
Tuesday’s incident also occurred while recreational league baseball games were wrapping up on fields a few hundred yards away.
“This is the second shooting that has happened in two years, and I just don’t think the park should stay open,” Carver said. “It’s a danger to our community. Once is an exception, twice is a pattern.”
Starkville Parks and Recreation Department announced Wednesday all non-recreational sports activities would be temporarily suspended during league games following the shooting Tuesday night.
Patrons cannot access the park’s tennis and basketball courts during league games and tournaments until further notice, Director of Parks and Recreation Brandon Doherty said, to ensure the safety of those participating in recreational sports.
“Regarding the situation on basketball, we’re closing down parts of McKee Park to focus on the league,” Doherty said. “We don’t want people to be distracted by other things in the park.”
Five Columbus men — one teenager and four adults — were arrested following Tuesday’s shooting. No one was injured.
Doherty said SPRD has no immediate plans to shut down the park completely. He said the department will be continually assessing the park’s interactions and security.
“I think that what we need to do right now is be thankful that no one was injured,” Doherty said. “We need to take a step back, reassess the situation and evaluate the parks. I know that there’s a lot of people doing their best to support the citizens and create programs to prevent the violence.”
Carver told The Dispatch he wants to bring his plans of closing parts of the park to the board of aldermen. He said while he may only be one vote, he believes this is a situation of safety that should be addressed.
McKee Park is located in Ward 2, represented by Sandra Sistrunk. She said while she believes temporarily closing the park during league games is necessary, closing down those parts of the park permanently is not the right course of action.
“As far as closing the whole park, I don’t think we’re there,” Sistrunk said. “I do think we have some modifications to make right now to ensure that people feel safe at the park, and we’re working toward those things as fast as we can, but as far as closing it completely, that seems counterproductive.”
Sistrunk said she has not had a conversation with anyone regarding the status of the park’s playground.
She, along with fellow board members, Doherty and other city officials, will hold a town hall meeting at 5 p.m. today at the park’s pavilion to address the shooting and the steps for moving forward. She said she would love to hear suggestions from the general public on how to prevent crime in the area.
“We just need to focus on what we can to get it under control,” Sistrunk said. “Some of it is short-term things that we can do, and others are going to take a lot more thought and take longer to get implemented.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill echoed Sistrunk’s view on not wanting to permanently shut down the basketball and tennis courts.
“I think that would negatively affect Starkville residents,” Spruill said. “I don’t think it would be beneficial to close down the park completely.”