Gunshots crack through the early morning stillness.
Glass shatters. Bullets rip into walls and splinter furniture.
For those living in a small area of Kansas City’s West Side, it has become a frightening and all too common experience.
Over the last year, they have been the victims of numerous drive-by shootings into homes and vehicles. Although no one has died, they fear it’s just a matter of time before someone does.
“It breaks my heart to live like this,” said one woman who asked that her name not be used because of the fear of reprisal. “It’s like a movie. Unfortunately it’s reality to us.”
The most recent incident occurred about 4:30 a.m. Feb. 3, just hours after that woman spoke out at a community meeting with police to discuss the rash of shootings, which have occurred in a few square blocks near Avenida Cesar E. Chavez.
The sound of a bullet shattering her front storm door’s glass awakened her. She and her mother, the house’s only occupants, were not injured.
Next door, two other women and a 10-year-old girl also escaped injury when at least two bullets smashed into their house. Police found 12 .40-caliber shell casings in the street.
One of that home’s residents said she is terrified and wonders each night if more shots will be fired. On top of that stress, she is battling cancer.
“I’m fighting for my life on that end and then having to dodge bullets to stay alive in my own home,” she said.
She, too, said she was fearful to have her name used.
At least three other times since last July, those two houses have been struck by bullets, according to police reports.
The woman who spoke at the community meeting said that her block alone has suffered 11 drive-by shootings since the troubling trend started.
Although she doesn’t know if or why someone is shooting specifically at her home, she believes she knows why her block and streets around it are targets.
A vacant lot on her corner has been a popular hangout for young neighborhood people. Early on Aug. 8, 2010, a car slowly drove past a large group gathered on the corner.
The car turned around and turned onto her block. The front-seat passenger leaned out a window and fired into the crowd. Some of those people returned fire as the car sped down the dead-end street and through a fence blocking its escape.
The shooting killed 28-year-old Kansas City resident John P. Garcia, a married father of four. Another person was wounded in the foot.
Detectives later located the suspect car and arrested a Kansas City, Kan., man, whom prosecutors charged with murdering Garcia.
The spate of drive-by shootings began after that killing, residents and police say.
They believe that young people from the Missouri side and young people on the Kansas side have become engaging in back-and-forth retaliatory shootings.
Last year, Kansas City police logged at least nine aggravated assault reports involving houses or people shot at within a few blocks of where Garcia was killed. Including the Feb. 3 incident, there have been three others this year.
Detectives investigate and collect evidence like shell casings, but the crimes are difficult to solve without solid information from witnesses about why the shootings are happening and who is involved.
“There is all kind of speculation, but we can’t prosecute on speculation,” said Sgt. Martin Cobbinah of the department’s assault squad.
Kansas City Police Officer Chato Villalobos talks to residents of the area on a daily basis and knows they are afraid.
“Some people have told me they are afraid to sleep in their beds,” he said. “They are sleeping on their kitchen floor.”
Villalobos, one of two community policing officers assigned to the Westside CAN Center, said many of families in the affected area have been there for two or three generations.
“Their quality of life has been changed by this,” he said. “People are invested in the neighborhood. They’ve lived here their whole lives.”
More than 50 people attended the Feb. 2 community meeting at the CAN Center, he said.
Police encouraged residents to come forward with information that can help them stop the shootings.
“Innocent people’s houses are getting hit,” he said. “I hope we can get to the bottom of this before somebody gets killed.”
There have been some close calls.
In one incident, a bullet struck an air mattress on which a little girl was sleeping. Another bullet came through the wall of a sleeping woman’s bedroom.
The woman who spoke at the community meeting said she knows that some young neighborhood people are involved in the ongoing feud.
“They don’t understand the jeopardy they’re putting us all in,” she said. “People need to be aware of their kids and what they’re doing.”
She said she believes police are doing an “excellent job,” and has noticed a stronger police presence in the neighborhood since the incident this month.
“When I see a police car parked next door I can actually get a little sleep,” she said.
But she knows police can’t be there around the clock and she worries about what will happen when the weather gets nicer.
“Summertime is the worst,” she said. “They will be back.”