MOULTRIE – When news of a shooting at a Texas Walmart broke on Saturday, it was hard for officials in Colquitt County not to make a connection.
The county has a large Hispanic population, many of whom labor in the county’s fruit and vegetable industry, and they do their shopping in Moultrie on the weekend.
The Hispanic population has been targeted in the past in armed robberies, said Colquitt County Commissioner Al Whittington.
“The Hispanic community is quite large and an absolute necessity,” he said. “They’ve worked in the fields, a lot of them six days, and they go into town on the weekend to buy groceries.”
In October 2005, six Mexican immigrants were killed in Tift County in a crime spree that began in Colquitt County with the rape of a woman and shooting of her husband. The suspects were thought to be part of a group that had carried out more than a dozen home invasions and robberies targeting the Hispanic population in the months leading up to the slayings in Tifton.
Immigrants often do not have the documents needed to open bank accounts, meaning they often carry cash with them.
“I think really that community stays in fear,” said Whittington, a former Colquitt County sheriff who referenced the 2005 crime spree in Colquitt and Tift counties. “They’re afraid as far as robberies. Every time they turn around, it’s something else.”
About 20% of Colquitt County residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is 12% in Tift County, which also is a large producer of vegetables, and in Dougherty County the Hispanic/Latino population is about 3%.
On Saturday, 20 people died and more than two dozen were injured in a shooting rampage at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store. Police say the suspected shooter may have posted an online manifesto that referred to a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Early Sunday, there was a second mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine dead.
“It’s one of those things,” Whittington said of such events that have erupted all over the country. “The potential is there, and it’s by the grace of God we’ve escaped. It’s so hard. How do you prepare for something like that?”
Police and deputies do regular active-shooter drills in the community, he said, most recently at a Colquitt County school campus during spring break.
Whittington asked the public to be alert to signs or warnings that someone is contemplating violence.
“If anybody hears or sees anything that’s suspicious or anything that does not add up, call law enforcement,” he said. “I just hope that anybody who suspects anything (will) contact law enforcement and let them look into it.”