TRENTON, N.J. -- Gunmen opened fire at an all-night arts and music festival early Sunday morning, sending people scrambling for safety, authorities said. One suspect was killed and 22 people, including at least one suspect, were injured.
Of the 17 people treated for gunshot wounds, four of them, including a 13-year-old boy, were critically injured but three had been upgraded to stable by evening, leaving only one man in critical condition, Mercer County prosecutor Angelo Onofri said.
The shots rang out about 2:45 a.m. Sunday as an estimated 1,000 or more people were attending the Art All Night Trenton festival that showcases local art, music, food and films.
Onofri said numerous fights inside and outside the building where the festival was held had prompted police to tell organizers that the event needed to be shut down because "there was a report that the mood inside the venue had been changing." Organizers were in the process of doing that when the shooting started, he said.
Authorities believe that several neighborhood gangs had a dispute at the venue and that multiple people began shooting at one another, with police returning fire, Onofri said.
"It absolutely could've been worse given the confined space and the number of shots that appear to have been fired," Onofri said, noting that about 1,000 people were in the area at the time.
"It's a massive crime scene. There's a lot of people that are injured," he said. "There are a lot of interviews that needed to be conducted."
There are no metal detectors in the building, Onofri said.
Reed Gusciora, the mayor-elect, confirmed there had been unspecified threats of violence before the shooting. He referred specifically to a Facebook post and said the city had increased the number of police and Fire Department workers at the festival. He said an investigation would determine whether police had responded appropriately to the threat.
Tahaij Wells, 33, the suspect who was killed, had recently been released from prison and had been on parole since February on homicide-related charges, Onofri said.
Amir Armstrong, 23, who was listed in stable condition, was charged with a weapons offense. It was not immediately known whether he had an attorney who could comment.
Multiple weapons were confiscated, including a handgun with an extended-capacity magazine containing more ammunition than is allowed under New Jersey law, Onofri said.
Krystal Knapp, an event volunteer, was knocked down as she headed for the exit, she later wrote in a Facebook post recapping the chaos.
"A kind woman pulled me up and over to the side and told me to stay down with her," Knapp wrote. "A woman three feet from us was shot in the leg. I'm not sure how many people were shot."
On Sunday, crime scene tape surrounded the site of the historic Roebling Wire Works building that shares a parking lot with a supermarket, bank and laundry.
Police were also investigating an attempted carjacking that occurred in a nearby alley. Onofri said police were working to determine whether it was connected to the shooting.
Gennie Darisme was getting ready to leave the festival when she heard shots and saw people running.
"There were people trampling other people, cars hitting other cars," she said.
When she was walking back to her car after the shots stopped, Darisme said, she saw someone bleeding on the ground, in handcuffs.
"People were running to him, trying to see his face, to see if he's a family member or a friend," she said.
Theresa Brown, who has been volunteering at Art All Night for 12 years, said she was leaving her volunteer shift when she heard "pop, pop, pop."
"I thought it was a car backfiring," she said.
The remainder of the two-day festival was canceled.
"We're very shocked. We're deeply saddened. Our hearts ache and our eyes are blurry but our dedication and resolve to building a better Trenton through community, creativity and inspiration will never fade. Not tonight. Not ever," festival organizers posted on social media.
The injured were taken to area hospitals, where some were treated and released.
Trenton Mayor Eric E. Jackson said the violence can't be "discarded as just random violence; this is a public health issue."
"All shootings, whether large or small, are a crisis. It's a fact that our cities as well as our suburbs throughout America are experiencing an increase in public shootings and public unrest such as this," Jackson said.
Jackson added in a statement, "It saddens me that a public attack such as this is what has brought major attention to our capital city on Father's Day."
Gov. Phil Murphy arrived in Trenton on Sunday morning and spoke at Galilee Baptist Church about the need for stricter gun laws.
"It's yet another reminder of the senselessness of gun violence," said Murphy, a Democrat.
Franco Roberts said loud music is usually playing at the event, but that wasn't the case when he and his girlfriend arrived about 2:30 a.m. They were told that the building would be shut down, and they turned around to see people "squaring up to fight," Roberts told Homicide Watch Trenton, a community news site.
That's when he heard gunshots.
"Everybody ran toward the door," Roberts said. "And the people fighting got mixed with the crowd that was running, and they went out the door shooting."
Irvin Higgenbotham, who goes to the event every year, said he was walking with his bike when he heard gunfire. He was shot in the leg.
"It was like, 'pow, pow pow,' and then I was laying down on the ground," he said.
Information for this article was contributed by Mike Catalini, Ron Todt and Christina Paciolla of The Associated Press; by Kristine Phillips of The Washington Post; and by Mihir Zaveri of The New York Times.
A Section on 06/18/2018
Print Headline: Dispute ends in gunfire at N.J. festival