Already roiled by this month's revelation of Daniel Prude's police suffocation death, the city of Rochester, New York, was further traumatized Saturday when gunfire at a backyard party killed two teenagers and wounded 14 others.
“Our community has been hurting enough already,” Rochester City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot said. “This is just another thing on top of all the things that we’ve been going through.”
The shooting that started just before 12:30 a.m. has not been linked to Prude's death in March, the details of which first emerged nearly six months later.
But the city's acting police chief, Mark Simmons, placed the violence that claimed the lives of a man and woman — both 19 years old who police believe were not the intended targets — in context.
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“This is truly a tragedy of epic proportions,” Simmons said in a news conference. “I mean 16 victims is unheard of, and for our community, who’s right now going through so much, to have to be dealt with this tragedy, needlessly, for people who decide to act in a violent manner is unfortunate and shameful.”
Police on Saturday night identified the two victims as Jaquayla Young, a graduate of East High School, and Jarvis Alexander, a graduate of University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men, or UPrep. No arrests were announced.
“We have two innocent victims here that were attending a party with a few friends and unfortunately they lost their lives as a result because three or four individuals decided to carry handguns and pull them out and shoot at a crowd of 100 to 200 people," police Capt. Frank Umbrino said at a news conference.
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The party was supposed to be a small gathering, but people from two other nearby parties went there in the early morning and an argument broke out, Umbrino said. Three or four people opened fire, and police found more than 40 bullet casings at the scene, he said.
The 14 wounded by gunfire were not believed to have life-threatening injuries and were all between the ages of 17 and 23, Umbrino said. Two more people were hurt when they were trampled while fleeing, but are expected to recover, he said.
Young, who was attending Monroe Community College, was captain of her high school's cheerleading team and a member of the track team, while Alexander, a sophomore at Alfred University, was on his high school's football and track teams and won a state championship in the 4x100-meter relay, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
In recent weeks, Rochester has been rocked by daily protests, allegations of a coverup and calls for the mayor's resignation and the arrests of the officers involved in Prude's death. Body camera video released by Prude's family showed Rochester police officers putting a hood over the naked 41-year-old man's head to stop him from spitting, then pushing his face into the pavement and holding him down until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support around a week later.
Simmons has now found himself at the helm of a police department in disarray after Mayor Lovely Warren fired Police Chief La'Ron Singletary on Monday, saying Singletary had initially misled her about the circumstances of the death. Other senior police officials have announced their retirements or departures from top command positions.
Simmons expressed frustration about the large, late-night party amid both the city's ongoing tumult and the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is yet another tragedy where individuals are having these illegal, unsanctioned house parties taking place in these properties, which — number one — is not safe because of COVID, because of the conditions,” Simmons said. “And then you add in alcohol and violence and it just becomes a recipe for disaster.”
Pastor Marlowe Washington of the Seneca United Methodist Church called Saturday's shooting “senseless” and pleaded for an end to such violence.
“I went out there in the early morning to pray quietly at the scene of the incident and to ask God ‘Why this?’ and ‘What did we do to our children? Why all this!’" Washington told WHAM-TV. “There will be no further interest in our demand for moral justice until we command the same justice from within our own community!”
Police were still trying to piece together who opened fire and why. They asked witnesses to come forward with statements and any photos or video.
“It sounded like somebody was trying to go to war," neighborhood resident Asa Adams told Spectrum News.
Some of the people who went to the party uninvited were believed to have attended a nearby vigil for a 20-year-old man who was shot to death near a local park, Umbrino said. It wasn't clear if the shooting was related to the killing.
The Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of the United Christian Leadership Ministry, painted a parallel between Saturday's shooting and Prude's death and called for clergy to perform proactive community outreach.
“We should be just as outraged by gun violence caused by residents just as much so as it is caused by police who shoot innocent Black men and women,” Stewart said at a news conference.
Hours after the shooting, the Roc Freedom Riders began their previously planned ride through the city's streets on the block where Prude was restrained. Around 3 miles (5 kilometers) away, captured on video, a group gathered for prayer near the shooting site.
“Oh, tell me,” voices sang in unison, “who can save me?”