In chaotic July 4th scene, a Portland man is shot and a crowd aims fireworks at police who respond

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Jul. 5—Fourth of July celebrations in a Portland neighborhood ended Monday with one man shot and assaulted and a chaotic scene in which police say a crowd aimed fireworks at the officers who arrived to help him.

The incident near Kennedy Park marked the second consecutive year that officers were attacked with fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend while responding to a call involving weapons in East Bayside, police say.

The 35-year-old Portland man who was shot was then assaulted as he lay helpless on the ground, police said.

While officers were trying to help him, a "hostile" crowd formed and they "came under attack" as people set off fireworks aimed at them, police said Monday.

The officers responded by shooting pepper balls into groups of people who were "targeting officers with mortar-style fireworks," Maj. Robert Martin said. The majority of the people at the scene were not residents of the neighborhood, according to police.

The incident began just after 11 p.m. Monday when officers were called to the area of Kennedy Park and Smith Street on a report that a man had been shot. Police say people gathered around as officers began treating the victim until medics from the Portland Fire Department took over his care.

Martin said people in the crowd became hostile toward the officers as they rendered aid to the victim. Officers who were containing the crime scene then came under attack with fireworks, he said. People continued to set off fireworks as officers remained at the scene for the next several hours.

"Officers were forced to deploy the pepper balls into the groups" that were setting off the fireworks, Martin said in a news release. "Several officers were struck with sparks from the fireworks that were intentionally aimed at them."

Pepper balls projectiles — deployed by a launcher similar to a paintball gun — are plastic-encased capsaicin powder that irritates the eyes and respiratory system if inhaled.

No officers were seriously injured. The victim was taken to Maine Medical Center, where he is now in stable condition.

On Tuesday afternoon, a parking area and walking path in the Kennedy Park complex were littered with remnants of Roman candles and other fireworks debris. Near the playground, used sparklers were piled under a tree. Children played on the playground and on the large grassy lawn.

Timothy Boulier, who grew up in Kennedy Park and now lives in Westbrook, said he had visited his mother to watch the fireworks display on Munjoy Hill. The family, including his 6- and 8-year-old daughters, were hanging out by the playground while people used sparklers on the lawn.

As crowds came down Munjoy Hill after the city's fireworks display, people were setting off bigger fireworks on the basketball court, Boulier said. All of a sudden, fireworks went off right over his family and they ran inside.

"Kids were screaming and crying," he said Tuesday as he watched his younger daughter on the playground. "It was too close. It was very clear it was getting too dangerous out here."

Boulier said he was unaware of the shooting until Tuesday morning.

Natalie Freiheit recently moved into a house on Anderson Street that backs up to the Kennedy Park neighborhood. She's used to hearing the lively sounds of children playing — there are lots of families there — but Monday night was different. After the city fireworks display ended, the neighborhood was crowded with people and cars.

Freiheit had just returned home from the fireworks and was watching TV when she heard "really loud" fireworks.

"All fireworks sound like gunshots to me sometimes," she said, although she didn't realize at the time that there had been a shooting.

Then, Freiheit said, there was a lot of screaming and the loud noises continued.

A resident who lives in the apartment complex but didn't want to be named because of fears for their safety said the people gathering outside of the building on Monday night did not live there.

Martin said investigators are still trying to figure out a motive for the shooting, but they do not believe there is any danger to the public. He described the shooting suspect as a Black man, about 6 feet tall with a larger build.

The police department had assigned extra patrols to Munjoy Hill on Monday night because of the city's fireworks display. Some of those officers were redirected to Kennedy Park, Martin said.

No one has been charged in connection with the incident.