The McFerrin Park Community Center is still patched with plywood after bullets shattered the front doors and various windows. A week ago, two teens were shot and injured outside the center when a group of masked men drove up, aimed, and fired a flurry of bullets toward the front door, forcing the kids inside to run for cover. The police say they have not yet apprehended the suspects.
The area around Nashville’s McFerrin Park is a neighborhood that’s experienced gun violence, but the brazenness of this incident rattled some of the neighbors.
On Wednesday, McFerrin Community Center re-opened with grief counselors on hand to deal with the aftermath of the shooting. But the kids inside the center that day were just a few of the hundreds who spend their afternoons nearby.
Carlos Lowe is the director of the Salvation Army afterschool program, located just across the street from where the shooting happened. For 24 years, he’s worked at the center, helping kids with their jump shot and making sure they do their homework.
On Monday, when the shooting happened, Lowe had no idea that 60 rounds of gunfire had just erupted across the street.
“One of the parents who had come in to pick up their kids had mentioned that there was a shooting on the corner around 4:30 p.m.,” he said. “My immediate response was: That’s around the time when a group of our kids come in from school.”
McFerrin Park is surrounded by low-income housing. A decade ago, it was mostly public housing, until that was torn down and rebuilt as mixed income. Over the years, gun violence has plagued the community. Even Lowe decided he had to stop inviting the older kids to come to the center after they often brought trouble.
Monday’s shooting is a stark reminder, Lowe says, to tap into your kids and pay attention. The two victims were not much older than ones he teaches every day.
“We have to be aware of the things that are happening today and try and take a hold on it,” he said. “This is the first time that it’s hit this close.”
Since the shooting, he’s been fielding calls from parents who want to transfer their kids across the street to his center.
“They were trying to find a safer place,” Lowe said. “So I am willing to take them in.”
No one from the city or police has dropped in to see if all is well at Salvation Army. But Lowe says that none of his kids have come to him with worries. Instead, they are their usual boisterous selves. After playing a fierce game of handball a group of kids grab a basketball for a game of pick-up.
Standing on the sidelines of the court, 10-year-old Corina gave a play-by-play of the game. “Eric has the ball. He’s dribbling, he’s dribbling,” she said, her eyes locked on the ball. “And he’s dribbling. He blocked the shot, he blocked the shot. It slipped out of his hand.”
Right now the center is fundraising for a major expansion. Lowe wants to serve more kids in the community. Especially after the McFerrin incident and other violence involving teens, he knows the best course of action is to open his doors rather than shut them.