WASHINGTON (AP) — Police in the District of Columbia are calling for community input to catch the perpetrators of a mass shooting at a crowded block party over the weekend that left one person dead and 20 others, including a police officer, injured.
“Everybody who attended that event, everybody who has information, has a civic responsibility to let us know who was responsible for this,” said Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham. “This is absolutely ridiculous. This is unacceptable.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser called the shootings “horrific” and said Washingtonians were “fed up with senseless violence and desperate for solutions.”
Newsham said the shootings appeared to have been sparked by a personal dispute, but said the motives were still being investigated.
The shootings occurred late Saturday night when at least four gunmen opened fire in the midst of a large public cookout in the southeastern Washington neighborhood of Greenway, Newsham said. A 17-year-old boy was killed and 20 other people injured. Among the wounded were 11 women, including an off-duty female police officer who was shot in the neck and remains hospitalized.
One weapon was recovered from the scene and nearly 100 bullets were fired, police said.
The shootings continue a violent year for the District of Columbia. More than 115 people have been killed this year, including an 11-year-old boy shot during a Fourth of July cookout. This year’s homicide numbers are a 17% increase over this time in 2019, which recorded the highest number of homicides in a decade.
Newsham has, in the past, repeatedly blamed gun violence on the flow of firearms into DC from neighboring states and lax sentencing laws that he says allow violent offenders back on the streets too quickly.
The large crowded public block party also constituted a flagrant violation of Bowser’s COVID-19 restrictions, which ban public gatherings of more than 50 people. The annual public cookout had been widely advertised on social media and videos show hundreds of attendees.
Newsham said he was “very concerned that a gathering of that size was able to gather …. We will take a look as to whether that could have been handled in a better way.”
Police officers were present at the time of the shootings, however Newsham said there were “not enough police officers on the scene to handle a crowd of that size.”
Bowser said she is counting on the community to cooperate in enforcing pandemic social distancing guidelines, and said that sending in the police to break up a block party may have prompted a negative reaction — especially at a time when the country is struggling with longstanding questions of police brutality and heavy-handed tactics.
“We don’t think it’s OK for a block party to grow to that size. And at the same time I’m saying that, there’s other people saying, ‘Well you can’t send the police in, Bowser. That’s just going to cause more trouble.’ So there is a conundrum,” she said. “Human beings want to be together and we get that. But we need people to stay socially distanced, wear a mask and by all means, don’t settle your problems with guns.”