By Mark Millican Times-Courier
ELLIJAY — The tranquility of an eastern Gilmer County neighborhood was shattered Sunday morning when multiple shots rang out, leaving three people wounded and alarmed neighbors calling 911.
Authorities said the shooting spree was drug-related.
When Jessica Roberts heard the gunfire, she knew immediately it wasn’t her father out shooting his rifle.
“It happened suddenly, 10 or 15 shots,” she said on Tuesday. “My mom ran up to my house and said, ‘They’re shooting each other!’ I told her to get in the house and then I saw a guy running up the road carrying a gun.”
Roberts said she called 911 and reported, “People are shooting each other.”
The shooting is alleged to have taken place to “collect a debt” in a drug deal, authorities said. The melee left three people with gunshot wounds and led to a search by law enforcement agencies for James Michael Stafford, 49, the owner of the property at 573 Simmons Drive who took the woman who was living with him — who was one of the wounded — to the hospital, and then fled on foot.
Stafford had still not been found late Thursday afternoon. He is 5-foot-7, weighs 165 pounds, has red hair, blue eyes and some facial hair. He was last seen wearing blue jeans and a dark T-shirt with a design on the front. Anyone spotting him can call 911 or the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 635-4162.
Gilmer deputies responded to the call of multiple people being shot around 11:30 a.m., according to a news release. Deputies found Ricky Silvers, 56, of 150 Berry Bennett Road in Murray County and Ben Forrest both with gunshot wounds to the head. Riding with them to the residence to collect the money from Stafford, said Capt. Frank Copeland, were Lloyd Silvers, 46, of 150 Berry Bennett Road in Murray County (the brother of Ricky Silvers), and Dennis Kermit Gravely, 48, of 167 Toccoa Valley Drive in Blue Ridge.
Lloyd Silvers was charged with two felony aggravated assault counts and a parole violation, and Gravely was charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault.
Ricky Silvers was arrested on Tuesday and charged with two counts of aggravated assault. He remained in the Gilmer County jail on Thursday. Gravely and Lloyd Silvers also remained at the jail without bond.
A warrant will be executed on Forrest for aggravated assault when he is well enough to leave the hospital, Copeland said. An address for Forrest was not available since he had not been arrested.
Lloyd Silvers has three past drug charges in Whitfield County Superior Court, and received a five-year prison sentence in 2006 on one of them, courthouse records show.
“(Stafford) was shooting at the four people, and three or four of the people that showed up were shooting at them while they were in the house,” Copeland said of Stafford and the woman.
Stafford is a convicted felon who spent time in prison after an arrest in 2003 for manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, according to a Gilmer County jail spokesman. He has had probation violations in February and May of 2011, and last November.
Around noon on Sunday the sheriff’s office received a call from the North Georgia Medical Center that a female shooting victim had been brought to the hospital by a man who then left on foot. Authorities identified the man as Stafford, but were not naming the woman.
Copeland said Tuesday the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was managing the crime scene. Agent Dustin Hamby of the GBI said he did not want to reveal any evidence found at the scene, including whether drugs were found.
Ricky Silvers and Forrest were taken by air ambulance to Atlanta Medical Center, Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said on Sunday. Spokeswoman Nicole Justin of Atlanta Medical Center said on Monday that Forrest was in critical condition. The woman was shot in the leg, Nicholson said, and the wound did not appear life-threatening.
Nicholson said Stafford left the BMW he was driving in the North Georgia Medical Center parking lot. The BMW and the van the four men arrived in have been impounded for evidence, Copeland said.
A search for Stafford near the hospital and around Ellijay and East Ellijay in a pouring rain proved fruitless Sunday afternoon, and was scaled back around nightfall. Involved in the search were local sheriff’s office deputies, city police officers from Ellijay and East Ellijay, Fannin County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Georgia State Patrol officers and probation officers from the Department of Corrections. Gilmer detectives and agents with the GBI investigated the shooting.
Copeland said the GBI is working the case and could bring charges against Stafford. He believes Stafford will “turn up eventually, we just kinda scaled back (the search for him).” But he added officers have not stopped searching.
He was asked if the woman will be charged.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “About the only thing she did initially (was) misrepresenting the truth a little bit, but she changed pretty quick early on in the investigation and started being forthcoming with what actually happened up there.”