SPECIAL REPORT: Neighborhood fireworks wars flare up in Columbia

Fireworks wars taking place in north Columbia. (Citizens for Justice)

"Last year, there was a kid that was injured and the ambulance couldn't get to them because the war was going on."

A fireworks war.

Fun and games to some, a war to others, these instances have occurred in a Columbia neighborhood notorious to the police. The area has seen shots fired, shootings and now a lesser-known crime. Participants shot off fireworks at each other in the city streets of Columbia at point-blank range.

"The only thing that's consistent is that somebody is shooting at somebody," Ahmonta Harris said. "You can always count on that."

It looked like a scene out of a war zone with a combat-like atmosphere, but it wasn't gunfire - it was fireworks. Harris organized a fireworks war on the Fourth of July, in sections of the Derby Ridge neighborhood.

"I've been warring since I was about 8-10 [years old], and I'm 25 now," he said. "They start them off young."

Harris said he knew it was risky.

"Before they get involved, you have to really address to them the dangers it holds," Harris said about kids involvement in the war. "Of course they're kids so you have to say the most brutal thing ever to let them know, hey, you can get your hand blown off."

Bodie Drive in Columbia is well known to police.

Harris said he doesn't think the war added to the area's bad reputation. He said the wars first started in central Columbia's public housing neighborhoods and there were no rules.

"It was wild, wild west for real," Harris said. "We're going to shoot at who we want to shoot at. We're going to destroy what we want to destroy and we're not going to clean up anything that's the way I grew up. Back then, innocent people did get hit and cops did get hit."

Sgt. Michael Hestir, a supervisor for the Columbia Police Department's Community Outreach Unit, said he was very familiar with the firework wars.

"Every year in Columbia for as long as I've worked here, since 1999, there's an outbreak of a fireworks war where people shoot fireworks back and forth at each other and eventually at the police," Hestir said.

He said during the war in 2016 officers were in the line of fire.

"The video of some of the things that we shot at them, if these would have hit the officers, it could have killed them," Hestir said. "It's serious, we're not just talking about bottle rockets. It certainly could have blinded them or burned them severely."

Hestir said it wasn't just the police who were concerned, and that it is dangerous extremely.

"As a police officer, that's something that rings a bell with me to protect and serve society now some mom has called and said her son is injured and the ambulance can't get there," the Columbia police officer said. "It's very dangerous."

Not only is shooting fireworks at someone considered a felony according to the law, but possessing and or using fireworks in city limits is illegal.

"I know it's illegal, yes, but let's look at the severity of illegal," Harris said. "Everyone is volunteering doing this war and I hit you, you're not innocent, as opposed to if you're innocent and I hit you and you press charges against me - that's a felony assault with a weapon. This is all fun and games for the most part won't hold up in court. We would shut down if someone got hurt severely, we'd shut it down if too many people are complaining or if somebody is getting into an argument or fight, we'd shut it down. But that has never happened."

Sgt. Hestir said there were more community outreach officers in the area. He added police made direct contact with those engaging in the wars and made them aware of the fireworks ordinace. Police also say they increased patrols during the wars.

Much of the video used in the story was part of a documentary film produced by Citizens for Justice that shows the wars.

You can watch the film in its entirety by clicking here.

We'd would like to warn you though, some language in the film online may be offensive.

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