SPARTA, Ga. — Velveeta Jones said it sounded like a war zone when gunfire erupted early Sunday in the Central Village Community of Hancock County.
A shooting left six people injured and one man dead during the midst of a neighborhood birthday party, authorities said.
Hancock County Deputy Coroner Tonya Thurmond identified the deceased victim as 33-year-old Sabreal Taylor, of the Dixie Community in Sparta.
More than 100 people reportedly were in attendance at the party.
At least two of those wounded are listed in critical condition, according to Mary H. Chandler, special agent in-charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 6 Office in Milledgeville.
The wounded were identified as Johnny Chapple, 35, of Milledgeville; Shanerica Chester, 28, of Milledgeville; Catavius Reeves, 29; Thomas Womble Jr., 29, of Sparta; Ga’Keylo Gaynor, 24, of Tennille; and Ramon Lewis, 37, of Covington.
All of them were listed in stable condition except for Reeves and Lewis, who were both listed in critical condition.
Chandler talked with a reporter with The Union-Recorder at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office in Sparta about the shooting Sunday morning.
She said the first 911 call was received at 1:47 a.m.
“The sheriff called me at 2:13 a.m., and initially he thought there were three people shot, but as people started showing up at area hospitals, we learned there was a total of seven victims, one of whom is deceased, two critical and then four others,” Chandler said.
She said the majority of the agents assigned to the GBI Region 6 Office in Milledgeville were called out to investigate the murder and multiple aggravated assault cases.
Eight GBI agents spent Sunday working the case, according to Dana Reese, assistant special agent in-charge of the GBI Region 6 Office.
“The sheriff’s office and the police department have helped us tremendously; they have all been out on this shooting, too, helping us as much as possible,” Chandler said.
She said Sunday that no arrests had been made.
Chandler said authorities had brought in a couple of people for questioning, but that it wasn’t necessarily about the shooting case.
“We are still in the process of trying to get information about who was shooting and things of that nature,” Chandler said, noting agents still were in the early phase of the investigation.
Chandler said Sunday that agents planned to execute several search warrants at residences and cars.
The large crime scene, which included several pieces of evidence, was processed and photographed by GBI Crime Scene Specialists Brian Hargrove and Thomas Resha.
A drone also was flown over the crime scene by Hargrove, Chandler said.
Authorities are seeking the public’s help as they continue running down leads in hopes of tracking down the person or people responsible for the shooting.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office in Sparta at 706-444-6471 or the GBI Region 6 Office in Milledgeville at 478-445-4173 or the GBI Watch Desk at 404-270-8849.
The wounded were taken to four different hospitals — Navicent Health Baldwin in Milledgeville; The Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon; Putnam General Hospital in Eatonton; and Piedmont Athens Medical Center in Athens.
They were treated at the scene by personnel from Grady Emergency Medical Services, as well as firefighters/first responders with Hancock County Fire Rescue and Sparta Fire Rescue. They were later taken by ambulances to area hospitals. Two of them later were transferred from one medical facility to another by helicopter.
Bullets also damaged four or five vehicles and at least one residence.
The shooting happened about 1:45 a.m.
Taylor’s body was taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory in Decatur where an autopsy will be performed.
Taylor’s twin brother, Sebreal, who also lives in Dixie Community of Sparta, said his brother sustained a bullet wound to the back of the head and another one to his left shoulder.
Thurmond said she pronounced Sabreal Taylor dead at the scene at 7:30 a.m.
The victim’s body was discovered beside a pine tree in the front yard of a modular home at the intersection of Bell and Lee streets, near the old high school, just outside the city limits of Sparta. That home sustained damages from bullets, as did a Nissan car parked near the front porch.
Sebreal Taylor told The Union-Recorder at the scene that he and his brother worked together at Central Park, a restaurant in downtown Sparta. They attended the 30th birthday of a friend after getting off work Saturday night.
“We both started working together at the restaurant in 2017, and then we moved away to Greenville, S.C. in December 2018,” Sebreal Taylor recalled. “But we moved back to Sparta in October 2019.”
Sebreal Taylor said he and his brother went to the birthday party.
“Everything was going great up until me and a lot of other people heard gunshots,” Sebreal said.
He said the shooting started about 1:30 a.m.
Just before gunfire broke out, Sebreal Taylor said a female friend of his ask him to move her car.
“And as soon as I moved the car, I got out and she came and got a cigarette,” he said. “She then shut the car door and that’s when all the gunshots went off.”
He said he heard “plenty” of gunshots, 20 or more.
By the time gunshots rang out, Sebreal Taylor said he was elsewhere.
“Everybody was running and I ran, too,” Sebreal Taylor said.
He said someone told him a few minutes later that his brother had been shot.
“Everybody was hiding underneath cars and trucks and around houses,” he said.
Sebreal Taylor said he jumped a backyard fence at a nearby residence to escape the shooting.
He injured one of his hands in the process.
Sebreal Taylor said he had no idea what prompted the shooting or who was responsible.
“It was probably gang-related,” he said, noting that he and his brother had nothing to do with any gangs. “My brother was just an innocent bystander.”
Velveeta Jones, along with her husband, Stanley, was awakened by the sound of multiple gunshots about 1:45 a.m.
“We awoke and came to the window, opened the blinds and we saw people running through our yard trying to get behind our house and underneath cars and trucks to avoid being shot,” Jones said. “They were all trying to run from the gunfire.”
“I looked across the street, and me and my husband could saw a young man slumped over by that Lincoln Town Car,” Jones said. “And people were running around. I guess they were calling for help. He was one of the wounded ones.”
She added that she later saw people attempting to render aid to Taylor.
Jones, like others, had already called local authorities.
Within a few minutes, officers from the Sparta Police Department, as well as deputies with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene, as did several ambulances.
As authorities arrived, Jones said the large crowd dispersed.
Jones said Sabreal Taylor, meanwhile, was laying beside a tree, a short distance from a Lincoln Town Car.
She said she knew the Taylor twins and described them as “really nice men” with good parents.
Jones said she didn’t know how many people came to the birthday party for the young man whose mother lives across the street from where she lives, but cars and trucks were parked everywhere.
“They were parked all up and down the streets,” Jones said. “There were a lot of people who came to the party, apparently.”
One of the residents in the neighborhood said shortly after the gunfire stopped they saw three men trying to pull a man holding what was thought to be an assault rifle away from the scene.
“The man holding the gun was a skinny young man,” the neighbor said. “Two other men had hold of him, and it looked like they were trying to get him away from here.”