CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Three people were killed and six others were injured early Monday when several people shot at a crowd during an impromptu party in North Carolina, police said. Five others have been hit by vehicles.
The shooting happened at an impromptu block party in Charlotte, which was a continuation of the Juneteenth celebrations, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief Gerald Smith said at a news conference on Monday.
About 400 people gathered on the north side of the city when someone was hit in the crowd in a crash accident, Smith said. Police responded to the scene and heard shots. Police believe that more than one person fired weapons because videos contained sounds of weapons of different calibres. The authorities recovered about 100 carcasses on the spot.
Maliyah Cook, a witness and family member of one of the victims, said the mood leading up to the shooting was calm. Suddenly she heard gunshots.
“I really feel it was a good party. I don’t know what happened, ‘Cook told The Associated Press. “It came out of nowhere.”
As Cook ran, she said she looked down to see her cousin, 29-year-old Kelly Miller, fatally injured in the middle of the street. Police have said Miller was pronounced dead on the spot, while 28-year-old Christopher Antonio Gleaton was pronounced dead after being transported to hospital.
Monday afternoon, police said a third victim had been pronounced dead, 39-year-old Jamaa Keon Cassell.
Matthew Torres, a Charlotte radio personality named Chewy, said that with fewer police and organized activities than previous nights, the atmosphere was tense prior to the fatal shootings. Police say the Friday and Saturday meetings in the area ended without injuries and the crowd dispersed in a mostly peaceful manner.
But on Sunday, Torres said some in the crowd seemed angry and “suspected something was going to happen.”
“You could tell they were angry for whatever reason, not knowing what they were angry at,” Torres said in a telephone interview.
Late Sunday evening, cars were street tricks, including one performing a donut and blowing a tire, he said. An ambulance arrived shortly after, then shots rang out. He said it sounded like several people in the crowd were firing at once.
“You had one gun sound and then maybe half a second later you heard two and then half a second later, then everyone and everyone who had a gun let it go,” said Torres, adding, “We looked at bodies on street. ‘
Smith said no motive was clear for the shooting.
Hours later on the scene, Myra Stewart said she was saddened by the shooting.
“We protested and said that black lives matter. But not only should they be important to whites, they should be important to us,” said Stewart, an African-American resident of Charlotte.
Betty Oates, another Charlotte resident, noted that the deaths increase the sense of crisis during the coronavirus pandemic and a nationwide movement of protesters to expose racist injustice after the deaths of black men in custody.
“We are already in a crisis,” she said. “God, here we are again in a crisis on top of another crisis.”
On Monday afternoon, a group gathered to lay flowers near the shooting site after police cleared it up.
“It’s also a reality check that we need to do more than create catchy hashtags and cool signs. We need to go out and stand up for our people,” said Katrina Cherry.
Smith said the situation became so chaotic after authorities arrived in early Monday that a rescue team in the crowd had to be sent to get people “off the back of our firefighters” who were treating people who were injured on the spot.
Smith also acknowledged that some officers had drawn weapons while trying to take control of the scene.
“They did their best to understand something that is chaotic, a mass victim,” he said.
Smith said no witnesses have come forward to describe how or why the shooting started and urged the public to assist in the investigation.
By noon no one was in custody.
Of the other seven shot, three had life-threatening injuries, Smith said.
The five people hit by vehicles are said to have sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, police said in a news release. Police say four of them seem to have been hit by vehicles fleeing the scene.
Juneteenth, for which celebrations began on Friday, commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free 155 years ago.
Tulip reported from Leawood, Kansas. Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew contributed to this report from Durham, North Carolina.
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