Two gunmen opened fire at an all-night arts and music festival early Sunday morning, sending people running over each other in the scramble to safety, authorities said. One suspect was killed and 22 people were injured. (June 17)
TRENTON, N.J. — A dispute between rival gang members was the probable cause behind a shooting that erupted in the early morning hours of a popular all-night arts festival in Trenton, killing one, injuring 22, and leaving New Jersey’s capital in a state of shock on Father’s Day.
Gov. Phil Murphy said the shooting may have stemmed from a “low-end neighborhood-level dispute” that spilled over into the venue.
But with thousands in attendance, that dispute quickly turned into a mass shooting involving multiple weapons, and adding New Jersey to the list of states nationwide that have had casualties from gun violence at large gatherings.
“This is yet another reminder of the senselessness of gun violence,” Murphy said at a midday news conference at Galilee Baptist Church, noting he had signed six stringent gun measures into law last week.
The deceased suspect has been identified as Tahaij Wells, 33. Wells was released from prison and on parole since February on homicide-related charges.
The man in custody is Amir Armstrong, 23, who has been charged with a weapons offense, said Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri. He remains hospitalized in stable condition.
A third unidentified suspect is hospitalized in critical condition.
City Councilman Jerell Blakeley said there were “whisperings” on social media Saturday that “there would be some issue” at the annual art event.
The shooting at the Art All Night Festival erupted around 2:45 a.m. and is under investigation. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting state police with the investigation.
Onofri said 17 of those injured had gunshot wounds. One of the most seriously injured victims was a 13-year-old boy, he said.
Sunday evening, Onofri said the young man, along with two others in critical condition, have been upgraded to stable. Only the third suspect remains in critical condition.
Chaos erupted as the suspects opened fire sending attendees running to the two exits located at each end of the historic building. On-duty and off-duty officers responded, the prosecutor said. The shooting spilled out into the outside area of the arts event.
It is believed the shooting is connected to gang-related disputes and multiple suspects were shooting at each other, Onofri said.
“The shooting appears to be related to several neighborhood gangs from here in the city of Trenton having a dispute at the venue,” Onofri said.
About 1,000 people attended the festival at the historic Roebling Wire Works building, which didn’t have metal detectors at the doors.
“All shootings, whether larger or small, are a crisis,” Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson said. “This isn’t just a random act of violence. This is a public health issue.”
The mayor said there are no plans to discontinue Art All Night, but additional security measures, such as screenings, and the hours of the event, will be explored.
“We will continue the event there,” he said. “These kinds of events are the future.”
Joe Kuzemka, the event director for Art All Night who is the founder of Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market and owner of Pork Chop Express Booking, said he and his staff were “quite shaken” but otherwise all right.
“Something unbelievably tragic happened last night and I don’t quite know how to process this,” Kuzemka said in a Facebook post. “My heart hurts so much. I’m so sad. I’m incredibly angry. I’m exhausted. I’m scared. I’m confused.”
The remainder of the festival on Sunday was canceled.
The advocacy group Moms Demand Action, which was created to urge state and federal legislators to adopt gun control measures, had a booth at the art festival. Pieces of art asked viewers to “imagine a world free of gun violence.”
Councilwoman Kathy McBride, founder of Mothers Against Violence, has worked for 25 years on the issue of tougher gun laws.
“We will not change the venue of this event, and we will not allow them to frighten us to back out,” McBride said.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called mass shootings “unacceptable.”
Art All Night Curator Bruce Toth, who has been involved with the event since its founding, said he and two of the women from Moms Demand Action have nursing backgrounds and ran to assist those in need. Toth described a scene of chaos in which blood spatter and bullets left a trail through the building.
“As soon as I heard the shooting stop, I went outside, and about 20 feet on my left, there was somebody who was shot in the leg, but on my right, about another 25 feet, was somebody who was shot in the head,” Toth said. “I went down to assist him. The three of us were taking care of the guy shot in the head. Everybody was running.”
Onofri said police were investigating a possible attempted carjacking in an alley outside the festival after the shooting, when a man may have pointed a gun at a car carrying three people. The car was damaged in the incident, he said.
“That is an ongoing investigation at this point,” he said.
Angelo Nicolo told Philadelphia 6ABC TV that he and his brother were at the event when they heard loud popping sounds. He said people started running down the street.
“I saw two police officers escort a guy that got shot in the leg,” Nicolo said. “They bandaged him up and whisked him away.”
Bart Jansen reports for USA TODAY, Cheryl Makin reports for the (Bridgewater, N.J.) Courier News and the (East Brunswick, N.J.) Home News Tribune. Contributing: The Associated Press
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