Three people were killed and at least 11 hurt early Monday after a multi-day street party erupted in a barrage of gunfire in northwest Charlotte, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.
Five of the injured people were struck by cars as they began scrambling across streets away from the chaotic scene, police said. Three of the people who were injured are fighting for their lives, police said.
There have been no arrests, no suspects and no indication of a motive for the killings yet.
At a news conference Monday, investigators said that as many as 400 people were attending the celebration at the time, and at least 100 rounds were fired into the crowd. No CMPD officers fired their weapons, officials said.
The three people who died were identified by CMPD as Kelly Miller, 29, Christopher Antonio Gleaton, 28, and Jamaa Keon Cassell, 39.
“It was a very, very chaotic scene,” Deputy Chief Gerald Smith said at the news conference. “This was a mass casualty incident.”
He lamented that no witnesses had come forward yet, saying, “400 people in one spot, we have not one witness.” Smith urged people to provide police with information about the shooting.
Keith Bailey told The Observer he was at his home a few blocks away when he heard bursts of gunfire.
“It was kind of like a little war,” said Bailey, who served in the U.S. Army from 1979 to 1984 and saw combat in Grenada.
“It sounded like it was when I was back in the service,” Bailey said. “When you hear gunfire like that, it’s kind of scary.”
Investigators say there is evidence that “several different caliber weapons” were fired simultaneously, indicating more than one person was shooting. It was not clear who they were targeting or why they started shooting, Smith said.
‘A senseless act’
Jennings described the outdoor event as a multi-day “impromptu block party” for Juneteenth that had been running off-and-on since Friday.
The official Juneteenth celebration included a march through the neighborhood Friday but continued in several unofficial celebrations throughout the weekend, Smith said.
Juneteenth celebrates the events of June 19, 1865, when the last of the nation’s enslaved people learned they had been set free by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Witnesses told WBTV the neighborhood’s Juneteenth affair had been “a happy, peaceful celebration” prior to the violence. Street racing and drivers “doing donuts in the road” had been part of the celebration, witnesses told the station.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles issued a statement calling the shootings “a senseless act of violence” that marred the holiday festivities. “What should have been a joyous celebration of freedom, became a moment where people lost their lives,” Lyles said in a series of tweets.
“How tragic is this?” Lyles told WCNC TV. “This is the heart beat of the Black community. This is our city, our neighborhood, our people ... We’ve had a lot in the last couple of years, but this has to be the worst.”
Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call CMPD at 704-432-8477 or leave information anonymously by contacting Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 or charlottecrimestoppers.com/.
A chaotic scene
The incident began around 12:30 a.m. in the 1800 block of Beatties Ford Road, police said, near Catherine Simmons Avenue. The area runs parallel to Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Park.
Police were called to the area in connection with a pedestrian struck by a vehicle shortly after midnight, CMPD Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings told news outlets at the scene. As officers were responding, they heard gunshots, police said.
Soon after, police said, they found a woman with a gunshot wound lying on Beatties Ford Road. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene by Medic, CMPD said.
Eight others were struck by gunfire on Beatties Ford Road, police said. One of those people was taken to a local hospital by Medic with life-threatening injuries, police said, and was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.
Beatties Ford Rd between Lasalle Street and Dr. Webber Avenue will be closed while detectives continue this investigation.
Know something? Say something!
Call @CLTCrimeStopper at 704-334-1600 with any information. pic.twitter.com/VQwKvmXHDi
— CMPD News (@CMPD) June 22, 2020
Five people showed up at local hospitals and said they had been struck by vehicles, CMPD said. Police believe one of those people was the original victim that officers were responding to, and the other four were also struck by fleeing vehicles.
Two blocks of Beatties Ford Road were closed between Lasalle Street and Dr. Webber Avenue while police investigated.
In response to the shooting, a peaceful march around the Beatties Ford Road area began at 2 p.m. Monday, organized by Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury. The group has held numerous demonstrations and marches in Charlotte in recent weeks in response to the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd.
Monday’s march started at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. A flyer for the march reads, “Black lives won’t matter to others until they matter to us.”
Up to 50 people walked down Beatties Ford Road with patrol cars in front of and behind them.
The group placed flowers at two corners of the Beatties Ford-Catherine Simmons intersection. Some marchers wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks: “Black lives matter,” “Put the guns down!” and “You are loved.”
Catherine Simmons Avenue has experienced violence before, according to a report this year by the Observer.
Three people were shot to death within a half-mile of each other last year; a fourth was killed just around the corner, on Beatties Ford Road, the Observer reported. They were among the 107 people who were killed in Charlotte last year, when the city suffered its highest homicide toll since 1993.
There have been 50 homicides in Charlotte so far this year.
Staff writers Ames Alexander and Rick Bonnell contributed to this report