ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Gunfire at a backyard party killed two people and wounded 14 others early Saturday in Rochester, New York, a city roiled in recent weeks by outrage over the police suffocation death of Daniel Prude.
As many as 100 people were at the gathering when the shooting started just before 12:30 a.m., Acting Police Chief Mark Simmons told reporters.
Police were still trying to piece together who opened fire and why. Simmons said it was too early to say whether more than one person was shooting or whom the intended targets may have been.
“It sounded like somebody was trying to go to war,” neighborhood resident Asa Adams told Spectrum News.
A man and woman, estimated to be in their late teens or early 20s, were killed, Simmons said. Their names weren’t immediately released. The 14 wounded by gunfire were not believed to have life-threatening injuries. They were all between the ages of 17 and 23, police tweeted Saturday morning.
Simmons said no suspects were in custody.
“This is truly a tragedy of epic proportions,” Simmons said in a news conference held near the home. “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.”
The shooting comes as the city in Western New York has been rocked by protests over Prude’s death, caused when Rochester police officers put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then pushed his face into the pavement and held him down until he stopped breathing.
“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 details of Prude’s death only emerged this month, leading to daily protests, allegations of a coverup and calls for the arrests of the officers involved.
On Monday, the city’s mayor fired Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, who she said initially misled her about the circumstances of the March death.Other senior police officials announced they would retire or leave top command positions.
The acting police chief, Simmons, expressed frustration about the large, late-night party amid that tumult, apparently in defiance of a state ban on large gatherings because of 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.”
Officers responding to calls of shots fired found “approximately 100 people” running from the scene, Simmons said. Before the call, police were not aware of the party and had received no complaints about noise, he said.
Pastor Marlowe Washington told WROC-TV: “Whoever was the host of this party needs to be held accountable for this.”
Two more people were hurt while fleeing, the Major Crimes Unit said in a tweet. Despite the lack of arrests, Simmons said there was no reason to believe the neighborhood was unsafe.
“I’m begging everyone to remain calm and exercise deep restraint as RPD investigates what happened here and seeks those responsible,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement.