At least four bullets were fired from a gun into the windows of Volusia County’s Republican Party headquarters Sunday night or early Monday morning, and the party’s chairman blamed Democrats for the vandalism.
SOUTH DAYTONA, Fla. — At least four bullets were fired from a gun into the windows of Volusia County’s Republican Party headquarters Sunday night or early Monday morning, and the party’s chairman blamed Democrats for the vandalism.
“I’m looking at the busted window that some nice Democrat did,” said Republican Party Chairman Tony Ledbetter on Monday. “Republicans don’t have any beef about what we are doing. It’s the Democrats.”
Ledbetter was slightly distracted from an interview when he spotted a hole in the glass.
“Is that a bullet hole?” Ledbetter asked volunteers, who found the broken windows and bullets around 9 a.m. Monday. “They actually used a gun, too.”
South Daytona Police Capt. Mark Cheatham said Monday that his agency is investigating the shooting that left shattered glass and fallen campaign posters that littered the sidewalk outside 2841 S. Nova Road — the Nova Fountain — strip mall near Reed Canal Park. Police did not have any witnesses or suspects.
Increased police patrols have been ordered for the area of the GOP headquarters in South Daytona. Investigators are also trying see if anyone in or near the strip mall had video, as they have not been able to find a witness to the incident.
“The bullets entered low and then went high inside the office, making us think they were fired from a car, but it’s something we are looking at,” said Cheatham, who didn’t anticipate any other agencies becoming involved in the investigation.
Inside, volunteers pointed to bullet holes in the walls and ceiling.
Ledbetter said he has been a political activist for 40 years and that it’s the first time he’s seen a party office shot up.
“It’s a small strip center and no other business was vandalized, so it was obviously politically motivated,” Ledbetter said, blaming the political climate.
“In 2018, this is a much tougher election cycle because this is not adversaries, this is not just Democrats and Republicans fighting about election day.” Ledbetter said. “This is sick people that who want to come out and bust windows and shoot bullet holes in my windows. It’s crazy.”
Ledbetter said he was the last to leave the GOP headquarters at 4 p.m. Sunday, and workers in the adjacent businesses, including an e-cigarette store, a restaurant and a massage business, had closed by 10 p.m. No one heard shots fired, and there were no injuries.
South Daytona police Capt. Mark Cheatham said the shooting incident happened between 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday morning.
“At this point we can confirm that at least four rounds were fired into the building,” Cheatham said.
State Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican whose name graced a sign beneath the window that was damaged, reacted strongly Monday against the political environment in which the vandalism occurred.
“The state of our political discourse in America is an embarrassment to all parties and those involved in the political process,” Leek said in a statement. “Neither Democrats nor Republicans own the high ground on this issue. Sooner or later, both parties are going to have to stop suffering idiots within their own party, and cast them out on their own.”
Jewel Dickson, the Volusia Democratic Party chair, said Monday that political organizations have been reviewing security measures and taking precautions this year.
“Our reaction is it’s appalling,” she said of the vandalism targeting Republicans. “It’s a sign of things going wrong. I would not be quick to blame a Democrat for doing that. It could be anybody angry.”
Republican Gov. Rick Scott also reacted to the incident.
“Glad everyone at the Volusia County Republican headquarters is okay and that no one was inside when the shooting happened. Violence of any kind does not belong in our state and I appreciate law enforcement’s quick response to keep these Floridians safe,” Scott tweeted.
Locally, State Rep. Patrick Henry weighed in with an emailed statement: “After one of the deadliest and most violent weeks in America, I’m disheartened and angry to learn that shots were fired at a Republican Party office in my district.”
Henry, a Daytona Beach Democrat, also asked those who may have information on the shooting incident to contact law enforcement. “Your party affiliation should never make you a target of gun violence.”
The Florida League of Women Voters and the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said things must change, that “lives are counting on it.”
“The hatred that is consuming our state and country helps no one and hurts us all,” the organization wrote. “We call on all Floridians to join us in our condemnation of these acts and commit to a renewed effort to maintain the peace of our communities.”
The shooting comes on the heels of politically motivated violent acts, including the South Florida man who federal agents say sent more than a dozen bombs to a CNN office and to Democratic leaders across the country and the anti-Semitic shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Eleven people were killed in the shooting in Pittsburgh, and six others, including police officers, were shot in the apparent hate crime.
Hate crimes, a designation that would elevate the seriousness of a charge, do not involve those in Florida who may be targeted for their political affiliation.
The shooting of the Republican offices left nearby workers worried and scared. Samantha Simmons, at the nearby e-cigarette store, said “it’s nerve-racking.”
“You hear about the whole bombings and the person is from Florida. Now there is an attack on the Republican office; makes me wonder if someone is trying to get payback,” Simmons said. “It’s insane. You don’t fight fire with fire. We are Americans; we are not supposed to be against each other.”
Patricio G. Balona is a reporter for The Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal. Staff writer Mark Harper contributed to this story.