By Kristine Phillips
Krystal Knapp’s shift at an annual arts and music festival in Trenton, New Jersey, was nearing its end when the commotion began.
People pushed and shoved one another. Several began running in Knapp’s direction, so she stood up from her chair and rushed toward the door.
About 2:45 a.m. on Sunday, gunshots erupted inside a historic building where a large crowd had gathered for Art All Night, an annual 24-hour festival that draws thousands of people. In the ensuing chaos, Knapp, an event volunteer, was knocked down as she headed for the exit, she later wrote in a Facebook post recapping the horror.
“A kind woman pulled me up and over to the side and told me to stay down with her,” Knapp wrote. “A woman three feet from us was shot in the leg. I’m not sure how many people were shot.”
At least two gunmen opened fire during the festival, injuring 22 people, including a 13-year-old boy and three others who remained in critical condition on Sunday, Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri told reporters. One of the suspects, a 33-year-old man, was fatally shot by a police officer, while the other one was arrested.
Seventeen of those injured were hit by gunfire, while the rest suffered other injuries during the chaos, Onofri said.
Onofri said the shooting appears to be related to a dispute among people at the event, and police had confiscated several weapons. The prosecutor remained tight-lipped about other details of the shooting, including what the dispute was about, who the suspects are and what types of guns were seized.
“It absolutely could’ve been worse given the confined space and the number of shots that appear to have been fired,” Onofri said, adding that about a thousand people were in the area at the time.
“It’s a massive crime scene. There’s a lot of people that are injured,” he said. “There are a lot of interviews that needed to be conducted.”
There are no metal detectors in the building, Onofri said.
Authorities are also investigating an attempted carjacking that occurred in a nearby alley shortly after the shooting, Onofri said. One person came up to a vehicle with three passengers and may have pointed a gun at them. It’s unclear whether that incident was connected to the shooting.
Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson condemned what he said was not “just a random act of violence” but a “public health issue” that follows gruesome school shootings that have reignited a nationwide debate over gun control. Just a month ago, a 17-year-old student armed with a shotgun and a pistol opened fire at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, killing 10 and wounding at least 10.
“All shootings, whether large or small, are a crisis. It’s a fact that our cities as well as our suburbs throughout America are experiencing an increase in public shootings and public unrest such as this,” Jackson, a Democrat, told reporters.
Art All Night is an annual event held in June. More than 900 artists submit their work for display, and attendance surges into the thousands, about 13,000 in 2011, for example, according to the event’s Facebook page.
The event was canceled after the shooting. Event organizers said in a statement that all their staff members, volunteers, artists and musicians are accounted for.
“We know there are a lot of questions and a lot of speculation at this point. We’re still trying ourselves to piece this entire situation together ... We’re very shocked. We’re deeply saddened. Our hearts ache and our eyes are blurry but our dedication and resolve to building a better Trenton community, creativity and inspiration will never fade,” the statement said.
Franco Roberts said loud music is usually playing at the event, but that wasn’t the case when he and his girlfriend arrived at about 2:30 a.m. They were told that the building would be shut down and turned around to see people “squaring up to fight,” Roberts told Homicide Watch Trenton, a community news site.
That’s when he heard gunshots.
“Everybody ran toward the door,” Roberts said. “And the people fighting got mixed with the crowd that was running and they went out the door shooting.”
Irvin Higgenbotham, who comes to the event every year, said he was walking with his bike when he heard gunfire. He had been shot in the leg.
“I was like, pow, pow pow, and then I was laying down on the ground,” he told NJ.com.
Hours later, Higgenbotham, with crutches and his left leg completely covered in bandages, went back to the crime scene to find out what had happened.
Knapp, the event volunteer, said she had scrapes on her knees and elbows and a small bump on her head, but she’s grateful she wasn’t shot. Off-duty officers were working security at the event all night, but Knapp said, “some idiot decided to pull out a gun and harm the best night of the year in Trenton.”
“I hope this doesn’t ruin Art All Night,” she added. “That would be letting violence win.”