Bill Huddleston wants to see a safer Verona. The native and 40-year resident of the city is one of many citizens who want the violence to end.
“I was born and raised in this community and I don’t like what’s going on,” Huddleston said, referring to recent violence involving guns. The latest incidents of gunplay came between Thursday, August 19, and Sunday, August 25.
According to Interim Police Chief Johnny Patterson, officers received three separate reports of shots fired during those days; one man was hit in the leg by one of the shots. Two of the incidents were drive-by shootings. Patterson offered no details of the ongoing investigation other than to say authorities are pretty sure who the perpetrators are and that they will be arrested “If we can find them.”
Asked if the suspects are not residents of Verona, Patterson said he could not answer that but they are being actively pursued.
The most recent shootings come on the heels of several murders dating back a few years. Those crimes were in November 2012, February 2016, October 2017 and March 2018.
Another drive-by shooting in the nearby Palmetto community by a teenage murder suspect prompted the April retirement of former Police Chief J.B. Long after he released the man from jail; he was being held as a suspect in one of the other murders (at a carwash on Raymond Avenue) and allegedly killed a 66-year-old grandmother, Annie Walton, in the December 2018 incident. Patterson, a veteran law officer and former assistant police chief for Verona, took over in April.
“It had quieted down until a couple weeks ago,” said Mayor Bobby Williams. “It’s better than it was.” The mayor speculated that most of the killings likely had some component of drug dealings in their commission.
He said a concerted effort, when the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the North Mississippi Narcotics bureau “blitzed” the town with numerous arrests, was effective in reducing the violence.
Huddleston said the sheriff’s department should be more involved with keeping the peace in Verona; he said the average of two city officers on patrol per shift is just not enough for the town of about 3,300 people.
Patterson said his staff numbers 10 full- and part-time officers and that he is seeking more part-time officers.
“All I want is people to do their jobs and make (Verona) a better place,” said Huddleston. “We need help and that’s what I’m all about.”