CHARLESTON -- Three Charleston shootings occurring within the past two weeks have some residents concerned about the affect these may have on the upcoming Dogwood-Azalea Festival -- an annual event that draws between 15,000 and 18,000 visitors.
"This is unfortunate timing in regards to the festival, but everything is fine and all plans are being made as usual," said Charleston Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Claudia Arington.
Currently 44 buses are scheduled to attend the 38th Annual Dogwood-Azalea Festival set for April 20-23.
Charleston's first shooting, which resulted in the murder of Shawn Johnson, 39, of Cairo, Ill., occurred around 2:30 a.m. March 24 at a residence on South First Street.
Then Justin Patrick Robinson, 23, of Charleston was shot to death on March 31 at the intersection of West Marshall Street and Locust Street.
About 9:15 p.m. Wednesday officers found a vehicle with several bullet holes parked near the intersection area of Lee and Gail Streets. Two females received injuries and were treated.
"To be honest, I've not really had any people say anything about it," Arington said referring to the three shootings.
Nancy Saling, administrator of Charleston Nutrition Center, said she hasn't heard any talk of safety concerns from senior citizens who attend the center. "I don't think it will be a concern. Most of the festival is in the downtown area and people will be driving around residential areas, historical homes and Rolwing Park, and I don't anticipate any trouble there," Saling said.
Diane Kelly, dispatch supervisor at Mississippi County Sheriff's Department, said some residents have voiced their concerns about safety at the festival. However, Charleston typically has enough law enforcement coverage during festival week that residents and visitors should feel safe, she said.
Officers with the Charleston Department of Public Safety and Sheriff's department are on duty, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol can always be called, Kelly pointed out.
"Even during the parade, Charleston DPS is out there, riding on bicycles, going in and out of the crowd," Kelly said.
Phone calls to Charleston Department of Public Safety Chief Paul Johnson were not immediately returned Friday.
Martha Black, executive director of Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in Charleston, said she thinks the annual festival will be just as successful as it always is.
"I've been in the west end of town myself, and I think they were unrelated incidents. I don't think people need to get that out of perspective," Black said. "It's unfortunate that it happened.
The Center works a lot in the west end of Charleston, where the shootings occurred, and Black said she doesn't think twice about going in the area. "And people won't think twice about coming (to the festival), and I think it will be glorious," Black said.
Arington said the festival is a wonderful family weekend for Charleston.
"We don't want people to be afraid to come to Charleston because there are so many wonderful activities," Arington said. "It's a time we all pull together and present our town in the best light."
But not everyone shares the same sentiment about the upcoming festival.
One Charleston resident, who usually attends each year, said the shootings have put a damper on the spirits of the community.
"If I didn't live here, I wouldn't come," she said.