JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — It was the kind of fear and trauma one resident of Monarch Apartments called “deeply sad” — dozens of college-age residents calling authorities, trying to get help to the complex just after 2:30 a.m. Jan. 1.

The 911 calls came in rapidly — nine of them in barely two minutes — as around a dozen gunshots rang out and people jumped from windows in a panic.

“There’s a shooting going on at Monarch in building 4, there’s been like six gunshots, people are jumping out of windows,” one young woman shouted.

A young man sounded calm on the outside but clearly wasn’t on the inside.

“Me and my girlfriend are inside a room, we’ve got all the lights off but a lot of people have left the building,” he said. “We’re too scared to go out in the hallway because it (gunfire) was inside the hallway.”

Another young woman, gasping between whispers and clearly terrrified, said “there’s an active shooter. Building four. I hear them, they’re on my floor. I can’t look out.”

While caller after caller described the chaotic scene in which 19-year-old Ja’Shon Yates lay bleeding to death in a hallway from three gunshot wounds, dispatchers gently and calmly instructed callers and tried to comfort them.

“I want you all to stay locked inside of a room and don’t go anywhere, ok, try to keep the lights off,” one dispatcher said. “And if you hear any more shots give me a call back, ok?”

Another dispatcher responded to a young woman who said “I’m freaking out, I can hear people screaming in the hallway — I think someone’s hurt.”

“We’re also gonna have medical stage in case there’s someone hurt,” the dispatcher said. “Can you take a deep breath for me, I know this is nerve-wracking.”

‘It’s just not right for them to be that scared’

Monarch resident Courtney Harvey was out of town when the shooting occurred. She listened silently as portions of the 911 calls were played.

“It’s just deeply sad, because I know so many of the people who were calling they have to be so young,” Harvey said. “And it’s just not right for them to have to be that scared.

The 24-year-old adjunct faculty member at nearby East Tennessee State University (ETSU) said she understands violent tragedies can happen anywhere but told News Channel 11 the complex had done far too little to keep things safe in the months leading up to Yates’s death.

“Recently it just feels like it’s progressively more apparent how bad the security really is,” Harvey said.

Harvey moved to the complex in May 2022. She said the proximity to campus, the fact that rooms are furnished and the layout of her apartment are all positives.

But the written policy of exterior doors to the four main buildings remaining locked was rarely practiced when she moved in and only got worse.

“All of the building doors have always been unlocked, and you can just walk right into any of the apartment buildings,” she said.

The complex had reported shootings the month before Harvey moved in and again in August. Police said both remain unsolved.

Photo: Courtney Harvey

“I hear all the time about people’s experiences there where they felt unsafe,” Harvey said.

She said residents had grown accustomed to large, loud parties filled with non-residents and that altercations weren’t uncommon at those gatherings.

“I’ve heard a lot of arguments and there was one time I was up there with a friend and we were just hanging out, and we heard someone on the phone outside in the parking lot yelling something about having a gun a gun on their person, which freaked us both out a little bit.”

Harvey hadn’t taken her concerns directly to management before the New Year’s incident, but she said she wasn’t surprised in retrospect that something tragic happened at a complex where more than one assault call a month came in over the past year.

“I have heard for a very long time about how many incidents occur at Monarch and it felt like it was going to happen eventually.”

As if to put a point on it, yet another shooting was reported early Jan. 9, and this time Harvey was among the callers to 911. The incident occurred several days after Monarch’s management had sent a lengthy notice to residents about tightening security measures and collaboration with police.

“I heard gunshots from my own room at about one in the morning, which was frightening,” Harvey said. “I immediately dropped everything I was doing to call 911 and it left me frazzled for the rest of the night. I wasn’t really able to jump back what into what I was doing before that.”

Remaining skeptical

Harvey, who fired off an assertive email to management the night of Jan. 1, said the messaging from Tarantino Properties, Monarch’s Houston-based owner, hasn’t left her brimming with confidence that things will really change for the better.

The complex has installed new keycard readers (her new card isn’t functioning yet but some peoples’ are). Monarch has told residents it’s upping armed private security patrols, collaborating with police and plans to set up a community meeting with the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD).

JCPD Chief Karl Turner told News Channel 11 last week that unlike another student-geared complex that regularly communicates with the department’s operations major about issues, Monarch’s management had not done so prior to the fatal shooting.

Harvey said she wasn’t very surprised.

“I am definitely bothered,” she said of the previous lack of collaboration with JCPD.

“I think that a communication with law enforcement would definitely deter that reputation that Monarch has. I think that part of the reason so much stuff happens at Monarch is because there isn’t so much of a law enforcement presence.”

“People go to Monarch knowing that security is very relaxed, and that they can get away with a lot of things.”

Her words practically echoed a statement by JCPD Lt. Don Shepard on Jan. 3. Asked whether the environment at a complex geared to a young demographic can impact crime levels, he said it absolutely can.

“I think the more lighting, the more security, the more posting, the more the word gets out there that ‘hey, they have security here, they have really good cameras here, they cooperate with police here, they have security guards on hand 24 hours a day’ — I think that lessens an opportunity for some of that stuff to go on,” Shepard said.

“And I think a lack of that encourages it and makes it an environmentally rich opportunity for some things like that to occur,” he added.

Harvey said she hopes the absentee owners put their recent words into action. She hadn’t heard from Monarch about the 1 a.m. Monday shooting via an email to residents, which she said was discouraging.

“What I want more than anything else is transparency,” Harvey said. “I feel like if Monarch was better about communicating with its residents, we would see a lot of change and a lot more confidence in our management.”

She would definitely want to attend a roundtable with Monarch representatives and police, and said she wants to hear updates about progress toward better safety measures.

“What I think Monarch really needs to do right now is focus on rebuilding rapport with their residents.”

News Channel 11 checked with JCPD on the status of the investigation into Yates’s death and the other events that night, when they say three separate altercations were occurring as the shooting broke out.

A spokeswoman wrote late Tuesday afternoon that investigators are continuing to “search for many people to interview as witnesses.”

In addition to Dae’Vo Jennings-Worrell, who is charged so far with 12 counts of reckless endangerment, the department has “other persons of interest.”

As of Tuesday night JCPD had completed a subpoena to obtain video footage from Monarch and also obtained statements from security guards on the night of the incident.