16 News Now Investigates: Living Under Fire

Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 6:24 PM EST
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BENTON CHARTER TWP., Mich. (WNDU) - Less than 15,000 people live in Benton Charter Township, but one housing complex has seen over a dozen people shot in less than a decade.

“They take out their beef with each other usually at that complex and it’s unfortunate because there’s a lot of innocent lives that have been lost out there because of that,” explains Police Chief Greg Abrams.

Shootings at Blossom Acres include four homicides since 2019. Police tell 16 Investigates that only one of those has resulted in criminal charges.

“The other three we have leads, we have good ideas who they are, however, as we find in a lot of our shootings, we don’t get a lot of people to tell us what they actually saw,” says Detective Sergeant Tyler Tiefenbach.

This is leaving Blossom Acres residents in the line of fire.

“Bullets don’t have names on them. And so, often times in these shootings when we have more than twenty shots fired, we don’t know where all of those bullets go. And they may be intending to kill someone right in front of them, but that bullet can ricochet it can go and hit anyone anywhere, essentially,” Tiefenbach explains.

Police tell 16 Investigates that gang activity is to blame, and that many of those pulling the trigger are under the age of 18.

“We have a couple groups in the area, of juveniles, that think gun violence is the answer to everything,” says Tiefenbach. “It’s scary how young kids are getting that, are being caught with guns. It’s very scary.”

Benton Charter Township Police also say they are not getting enough help from witnesses in solving these crimes.

“Someone from one group gets shot, they’re not going to tell us who did it—they know, they’re just going to go and they’re going to end up shooting back at the other group. And that’s their way of getting justice,” he explains.

This cycle of violence is causing concern for those who live and work in Benton Charter Township.

“It’s not a good feeling,” says Town Supervisor Cathy Yates. “Everyone wants to feel safe. You want to feel safe in your home, you want to feel safe when you go to work, you want to feel safe in the grocery store shopping. And I know that some people are beginning to feel that that’s not the case. And we want to remove that fear.”

Blossom Acres is public housing. That means it “was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities”, according to HUD.

We know safety is an issue at the complex.

“A lot of our gangs use Blossom Acres as their, pretty much as their… I don’t want to say their shooting grounds but that’s where they take out their problems at. For some reason they just think that’s a great location. A lot of our gang members have families in those locations, makes for a quick getaway,” explains Chief Abrams.

The complex is also struggling to keep up its condition. In 2015, Blossom Acres received a 90 on its physical inspection from HUD. But by 2020, that score dropped to 64, which is barely passing. Scores below 60 fail.

The complex is managed by Benton Township Housing Commission, who we were unable to reach for comment. According to a mission statement on their website, the housing commission aims to provide “safe, decent, and sanitary housing conditions for very low-income families”.

When it comes to reducing crime at Blossom Acres, new leadership is ready to step in and help.

In his first interview as Benton Charter Township’s police chief, Greg Abrams tells 16 Investigates he’s got plans in the works.

“What I’m going to do now is put together a program that’s directed toward Blossom Acres after I speak with the manager there and just get a consensus of what’s needed in that particular complex,” says Abrams.

Town Supervisor Cathy Yates is also ready to take action, hoping to open up the lines of communication with residents.

“I want to have some outside gatherings this summer so people can feel free to walk up and talk to us, tell us what’s going on,” she says. “And we’re going to need the community, and I’m calling on ministers too across the township, and those who have our residents in their facilities in the city, to try to work with us. So that we can be more open, more talkative…. I want everyone to feel safe. No matter where you’re going. Home, work, or play. I want you to feel safe to go out and be yourself in the community.”

Detective Sergeant Tyler Tiefenbach hopes more communication will mean more witnesses willing to share what they know with police.

“If you see something, if you know something, you need to come forward so we can put this together. That’s our job that is what we’re here for, it’s to protect the community. And it’s more difficult when we’re not getting the statements and the stuff from people who know stuff,” explains Tiefenbach. “We want people to be able to go outside and enjoy their day and let their kids play outside without having to worry about this.”

While it may take time to create change, Chief Abrams believes in the effort.

“The citizens at Blossom Acres are great citizens,” he says. “So we want to build on top of that, make that even better and maybe help them keep that negativity out of their complex so they’ll feel better about where they live.”

Anyone who has information in connection to open investigations at Blossom Acres is urged to call police and help them close cases– and keep the complex safe.