In videos from a Saturday night block party, hundreds of teenagers and young adults are seen dancing in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Baltimore and singing along to lyrics by local rappers. As they holler and wave their hands in the air, many raise their phones to record the revelry on a warm summer night.
But the videos that surfaced shortly after midnight tell a story of terror and tragedy: teenagers running from gunfire, people falling to the ground, and a crying mother as she meets police officers at the sprawling crime scene where her daughter was shot death.
A barrage of gunfire ripped through the Brooklyn Day party in South Baltimore, killing two youths and wounding 28 others. Half of those shot were under the age of 18, police said.
Even for a city plagued by gun violence in recent years, the death toll was staggering, representing more people than would sit in an average high school class. In the past decade, only 10 other shootings in the United States have resulted in so many gunshot fatalities, according to the Gun Violence Archivea research team, although many mass shootings have claimed multiple lives.
On Monday, many people in the Brooklyn borough were shaken, and several of the city’s leaders urged people to come forward with information, even as police faced pointed questions about why there were no officers at the event. While it doesn’t have a fixed date, the event has been held every summer for 27 years, the mayor said, and officials were there last year.
Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said the department only learned of the party’s existence « several hours » before the shooting, which occurred shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. He said multiple guns had been used and that police hadn’t arrested anyone yet.
He and the mayor, Brandon M. Scott, deflected questions about the absence of officers and tried to focus attention on the perpetrators of the violence.
« We won’t stop until we find those responsible and hold them accountable – we won’t, » said Mr Scott. « That said, we need the help of our residents and anyone who knows anything to come forward and say something so we can bring to justice those who are carrying out acts of violence like this. »
Mr. Scott referred to a video circulating on social media showing a teenager flashing a gun at the party and said the adults in attendance shirked their responsibility to keep tabs on the teenagers.
« There were grown adults filming young men with guns saying nothing, doing nothing, not saying to the police, ‘Hey, I know this teenager is here at this event with a gun,' » said Mr. Scott. « There was a time when even the toughest of the tough on the street, if they saw a little kid with something like that, they’d walk in there, do something. »
However, city leaders shed little light on why police were unaware of the event earlier. In the days leading up to the party, several people had been talking about it on social media. On Twitter alone, a handful of people discussed the event in public posts two days before it took place. One user wrote Thursday that « the whole of Baltimore » was « talking about going to Brooklyn Day. »
Commissioner Worley said that, in past years, the department had found advertisements or social media mentions of the party and sent agents to monitor it. But this year, he said, analysts and one of the department’s top intelligence officers hadn’t found any of the jobs. He also noted that no one had applied for a permit for the event, although he acknowledged that the same was true of previous Brooklyn Day parties.
« We knew it was going to happen at some point, but we had no indication it was happening that day because we’ve never seen any commercials for it, » he said.
The shooting comes as the number of homicides in Baltimore has declined slightly from recent years. according to The Baltimore Banner. But he raised fears that such a large public shooting could set off a wave of retaliatory violence. The city saw an average of about 333 homicides each year from 2015 to 2022, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Krystal Gonzalez, whose 18-year-old daughter, Aaliyah Gonzalez, was one of two people killed, said Monday she was in more pain than she’s ever felt in her life. She tearfully said she recently threw a party for Aaliyah to celebrate her high school graduation.
Aaliyah worked at Starbucks, working extra shifts and saving money for a car, her mother said. For much of high school, Aaliyah had longed to go to college out of state, but she changed her mind shortly before graduation, instead planning to enroll at Anne Arundel Community College near her home in the Baltimore suburb of Glen Burnie.
“Suddenly, in his senior year coming to an end, he said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to leave; I want to stay here,’” Ms. Gonzalez recalled. « She wanted to stay with us. »
Ms. Gonzalez said she didn’t think Aaliyah had ever been in the Brooklyn neighborhood before, and that Aaliyah had spent the night with a friend in a Baltimore suburb who decided to go to the party.
« She was a good girl, » Ms. Gonzalez said. “He would analyze people: Why do they feel this way? What can I do to help? — that’s who Aaliyah was. She was so, so brilliant and sensitive, and I swear this world didn’t deserve her. She was too beautiful to be here.
Sunday morning, Ms. Gonzalez said, she woke up to her husband’s shout of « No! » after someone used Aaliyah’s phone to call him and tell him she was shot. Ms. Gonzalez said she could not believe her victim was her daughter and ran to the scene, only to be held up by officers who told her she would not want to see her daughter’s body.
« We have to find who did this, » Ms. Gonzalez said. « It hurts a lot. »
Police identified the other victim as 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi. Commissioner Worley said officers were still reviewing the videos and interviewing the victims.
On Monday afternoon, the remains left around the Brooklyn Homes, the public housing complex that was the center of the event, formed an eerie reminder of what had transpired the day before. A truckload of snow cones was still parked in the complex’s parking lot. A few lawn chairs and a soft purple stool stood outside rows of identical, squat, red-brick apartments.
People who live nearby said the party started as planned, albeit perhaps with more children than usual. There was a DJ in the parking lot, people dancing, and street vendors serving food.
Anthony Wicks, who lives in the neighborhood, said he watched over his 6-year-old daughter as she played in their backyard near the party Saturday night.
When he heard gunshots, Mr. Wicks grabbed his daughter and ran. As he ran, he was hit in the side of his torso by a bullet that ricocheted off something else.
“It was almost me; she was almost my daughter,” she said on Monday. “The children can’t even go out. It’s too much. »
Donna Owens contributed reporting from Baltimore. Alain Delaqueriere contributed to the research.