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New Year's Eve Celebratory Gunfire Kills At Least One in Florida

Police in the U.S. state of Florida say at least one person was killed by New Year's Eve gunfire in the state. One other person was critically injured in the city of Miami. Police and community leaders last week appealed to residents not to mark the New Year by firing guns in the air.

Henry McDaniel, 75, was standing outside his house in Orlando, Florida, when he collapsed in the street at midnight. Mr. McDaniel was killed by a bullet from a high-powered rifle, which pieced his chest and struck his heart. Police say Henry McDaniel was the first victim to die from New Year's Eve gunfire in Florida in several years.

In Miami, no one had been hit by stray New Year's gunfire since 1999. However that changed at midnight when Modesta Vallardares was struck in the shoulder by a stray bullet as she sat on her front steps celebrating New Year's Eve with friends and family. The woman, 65, is in critical condition in a Miami hospital.

Police and community leaders in Miami had achieved some success in recent years in curbing the practice of firing guns in the air to celebrate New Year's Eve. Delrish Moss, a spokesman for the Miami Police Department, says community awareness of the problem is not enough.

"Awareness is the key and it is not just the awareness coming from the police, but everyone in the community has a job to do in terms of telling people that this is just not acceptable,” he said. “What is also key is when we can find the people who engage in this sort of behavior to make the arrest and set the example so they understand there are consequences to these actions."

But Detective Moss says making an arrest in a New Year's Eve gunfire case is not easy.

"What is difficult about this is it is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he explained. “There were so many people firing in that particular area that that this is an almost impossible task. But we are looking and we have recovered the round [bullet]. Hopefully that will lead us to a person at some point."

In the 1990s at least three people were killed and six others injured by stray New Year's Eve gunfire. Even police on patrol on New Year's Eve say they are careful to take cover in the minutes just before and after midnight on New Year's Eve to avoid being struck by stray bullets fired in the air.