The annual Brooklyn Day celebration started with pony rides, snowballs and dancing, then turned into a scene of terror as gunfire killed two people, wounded 28 others and sent hundreds of terrified revelers running for cover in the South Baltimore neighborhood early Sunday. It was a shocking event even in a city accustomed to violence.
As investigators combed the sprawling crime scene Sunday and city officials flooded into the Brooklyn Homes housing project with food, diapers and lists of resources, residents questioned why police weren’t at the festival, which has been going on for 27 years and is usually well patrolled.
“Where was the police presence yesterday during the event?” a resident demanded of city officials at an afternoon news conference. “There was not one officer out here yesterday.”
Baltimore Police acting Commissioner Richard Worley said police did not know about the “unpermitted” event until sometime Saturday. “My job is to investigate to see what our officers did once we figured out there was a large party,” he said. “If we made mistakes, we will fix them so that this never happens again.”
The victims were identified as Kylis Fagbemi and Aaliyah Gonzalez, according to a flyer from Metro Crime Stoppers, which offered $8,000 for information leading to an arrest and charges.
Worley said police were looking for at least two gunmen. Videos circulating widely on social media showed a young man pulling a large semi-automatic weapon out of his bag and young people hopping a fence to flee the shooting scene.
Officers found 10 wounded people near the 800 block of Gretna Court, including one 18-year-old woman who was pronounced dead at the scene and a 20-year-old man who was taken to a hospital, where he died. Twenty more wounded people walked into hospitals, Worley said. Of the injured, 14 are under the age of 18 and nine people remain hospitalized, he said.
Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents the neighborhood, said she was angry about the lack of a police presence at the festival. ”The fact that there were no police officers here is an immense systemic failure,” Porter said, as she stood near the scene. In a written statement, Porter clarified there were “multiple levels of system failure from various agencies.”
“Brooklyn has always and forever been a neglected community,” Porter said at the afternoon news conference. Porter said she has requested a city council hearing Wednesday to determine why police were not present.
The celebration had started with a cookout, cotton candy and a DJ, but tensions escalated into the night. Two women who attended the party said the crowd scattered repeatedly because of fears someone had a gun. The DJ warned partygoers that this was no place for quarrels. Shortly after midnight, police said, gunfire began.
“When they started shooting, it was nonstop,” said a young woman whose front door faces the scene and who declined to give her name due to safety concerns. She said she could see three people sprawled on the ground near her home and a fourth wounded person on a stairwell across the way.
“If there was police here, the shooting wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
The city police union seized on the violence to again draw attention to Baltimore’s persistent shortage of officers.
“Would anyone care to guess how many officers from the patrol shift were working in the Southern District at the time of this mass shooting? SEVEN (7)! Ten years ago, there would have been 20 from the shift,” union leaders wrote on Twitter.
Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Lodge No. 3 Fraternal Order of Police, said the Baltimore Police Department is short about 600 patrol officers, and that shortage certainly affected staffing Saturday evening heading into the midnight shift.
Mancuso said that, about a decade ago, 20 officers would typically staff the midnight shift in the Southern District, where the shooting took place. These days, that number is closer to 13 or 14, he said. On Saturday night, Mancuso added, there were only about seven officers scheduled to work.
Mancuso said no police officers were assigned to the Brooklyn Day event.
”I guarantee you that if we were fully staffed ... somebody would have been detailed to that event,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can, but the supervisor has to staff with what they’ve got, right?”
Mayor Brandon Scott called the shooting a “reckless, cowardly act,” and said police are working to catch those responsible.
“We will not stop until we find you, and we will find you. Until then, I hope that every single breath you take, that you think about the lives that you took, think about the lives that you impacted here tonight,” Scott said at the scene. Investigators are reviewing video surveillance to try to identify the shooter or shooters.
Stefanie Mavronis, who last week became the interim director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said her office would be embedded in the Brooklyn Homes community for the next 45 days. “We want to make sure we help facilitate the healing process,” she said.
This is the most people shot in one incident since at least 2015, a Banner analysis of Baltimore Police crime data found. The earliest year the database has reliable data for is 2015.
Until Sunday, the most shot in a single incident in Baltimore since 2015 was eight people in a 2016 Johnston Square incident. No one died in that shooting.
The most people killed in one incident is three. That has happened five times since 2015, including an April shooting in the North Harford Road neighborhood when four people were shot.
Since 2017, an average of five people have been shot each year on or within about two blocks of the sprawling Brooklyn Homes complex. This year had already matched that trend by June. This shooting alone doubles the most violent year for which data is available, when 15 were shot in or near the complex in 2015.
Lakell Nelson, 54, said there had been several false alarms of people mistaking the sounds of fireworks for gunfire earlier in the night while she was at the block party. However, by the time she was getting to her car, the shooting began.
“The shots were just going on and on and on,” she said.
That’s when two young women approached her and said they’d been shot.
“I kinda didn’t believe them at first because they were walking up the street. I said, ‘Show me,’ and the girl was like, ‘I was shot in my butt,’” she said. “When she turned around, I saw the hole through her shorts.”
Nelson said she told the women to get in the car and she sped through red lights to get to the nearest hospital.
Maria Lazo, 27, said she watched the shooting from the window of her grandmother’s house at Eighth and Stoll streets. She heard an altercation in the alley behind their home shortly before the shooting.
“They were arguing in the alley. I saw somebody pull something out,” she said. The men fled and about 15 minutes later the gunfire erupted, she said.
“It was crazy,” Lazo said. “Seeing all these people taking cover behind a car, underneath a car, trying to call rides.”
Lazo said she saw a young woman who had been shot standing at Eighth and Stoll. “She was screaming, ‘It hurts,’ and her friends were trying to comfort her,” she said. “I can’t ever forget that.”
Drops of blood stained the street and sidewalks where Lazo saw the wounded woman and a nearby alley that led to the scene of the block party.
Hours before the shooting began, Brooklyn Homes resident Michael Carr Sr. was grilling burgers and hot dogs. He retreated to his front yard and was playing dominoes around 11:30 p.m. with a friend when he heard gunshots mixed with fireworks.
”I know the difference,” he said.
The 59-year-old knew the police would be on their way. He said one cruiser came down his street, did a U-turn and went the other way. He expected an ambulance but didn’t see one. Two more cruisers and a helicopter came. Hours after Carr went to bed, he heard more shots.
The shooting occurred within the boundaries of one of the city’s 10 Safe Streets anti-gun violence zones, which cover about 2.6 square miles of the city in total. The Brooklyn site, operated by the Associated Catholic Charities, was opened in 2019 and had conducted about 160 mediations as of a March City Council update.
Kevin Keegan with Catholic Charities said Safe Streets workers were at the event.
“It’s a gathering in the community, and that’s what we do if there’s a gathering in the community,” he said. “We make sure we have a presence.”
The Safe Streets program, which received about $2 million in city funds and $3 million in state funds for the budget year that ended June 30, was recently championed by city leaders following a Johns Hopkins report showing the program appeared to be effective in reducing gun violence despite many logistical challenges, but less so at newer sites, such as Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Homes residents watched from their porches Sunday as teams of investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives scoured the ground for casings, state and city officials trooped into a gleaming police Mobile Command Center and dozens of journalists from local and national media outlets swarmed behind yellow crime scene tape.
Members of the nearby Kingdom Life Church Apostolic gathered near the shooting scene, singing, praying and passing out vials of holy oil. “You take over this neighborhood right now in the name of Jesus,” chanted elder Myrtle Watts. “Release them. Release the people out of the hands of the enemy.”
City officials parked an orange van emblazoned with the words “Peace Mobile” behind the Brooklyn Homes Community Center before the afternoon news conference. More than two dozen city officials stood in front of it as Scott and Worley fielded questions.
The resident who demanded to know why police had been absent at the festival provided only her first name, Kita, out of fear for her safety. She dismissed officials’ explanation about the lack of festival permits as a “bullshit ass excuse.” “It’s a block party every single year at the same time of the year,” she said.
Kita said she had attended the festival with her 6-year-old daughter, who clung to her leg as she spoke. “There was a lot of teenagers out there yesterday, reckless behavior, things I don’t want my daughter to see,” she said, noting that she witnessed two fights before sundown. “Thank God we left early.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Baltimore Police or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.
This story has been updated to clarify comments from City Councilwoman Phylicia Porter.
CBS Baltimore and the Associated Press contributed to this report.