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Chaos and terror on South Street: Multiple gunmen fired into crowds on ‘a dark day for Philadelphia’

"Yesterday was a dark day for Philadelphia," Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said, calling the shooting an atrocity.

Philadelphia Police officers and detectives look over evidence at the scene of a mass shooting on South Street late Saturday.
Philadelphia Police officers and detectives look over evidence at the scene of a mass shooting on South Street late Saturday.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Multiple gunmen shot into crowds gathered on South Street late Saturday night, killing three people, wounding 11, and bringing chaos and terror to one of Philadelphia’s most popular nightlife districts.

Police were still piecing together on Sunday what had happened around 11:30 p.m. the night before, when two men began shooting at each other during a fight.

Within seconds of the initial gunshots, police said, other people began shooting into crowds gathered on the street, and a police officer shot at one of the suspected gunmen. Five guns were used by the assailants, leading police to believe there may have been five shooters.

Panic broke out on the street. Gunfire came in bursts and bullets ricocheted, sparking off the asphalt. People ran, screaming, some of them tripping as they tried to get away.

Some tried to help bleeding victims lying in the street. Blood-spattered bystanders ran into bars for shelter.

“We ran as fast as we could, as far as we could,” said Joe Smith, 23, who was standing outside the Theatre of Living Arts on South between Third and Fourth Streets when the shots rang out.

The mass shooting by multiple gunmen put another spotlight on gun violence, both in Philadelphia, where 94 people have been shot in the last 10 days, and in America, which has been roiled by mass shootings in Buffalo and in Uvalde, Texas. And it wasn’t the only one on Saturday into Sunday: Two similar shootings near a nightclub and a strip mall occurred in Tennessee and Arizona.

With 14 people hit by gunfire, the South Street shooting left more people wounded or killed than any other episode of gun violence in Philadelphia since at least 2015, when 11 people were shot during a barbecue in the city’s Mantua neighborhood. It was the first shooting on South Street in which multiple people were killed since 2015, when the police began regularly publishing gun-violence statistics.

» READ MORE: 69-year-old man shot on South Street recalls how the night went from party to mayhem

Officials said the investigation into the shooting was in its early stages. No one had been taken into custody, and investigators were still seeking to piece together video, ballistics, and other evidence. The police deployed extra officers to the area Sunday night, and the city closed the streets between Front and Sixth Streets and from Bainbridge to Lombard from Sunday at 8 p.m. until Monday at 6 a.m.

Police said they did not know whether the shooters were connected. One of the men in the dispute that sparked the gunfire was killed and the other was injured. Police believed there may have been three other gunmen, none of whom had been apprehended, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a Sunday afternoon news conference at Police Headquarters.

“Yesterday was a dark day for Philadelphia,” Outlaw said, calling the shooting an atrocity. Mayor Jim Kenney and other city and state leaders reacted with horror, some calling for more anti-violence measures.

Those killed were Kristopher Minners, 22; Alexis Quinn, 24; and Gregory “Japan” Jackson, 34.

The 11 shot and wounded ranged in age from 17 to 69, according to police, and nearly all were bystanders. Their conditions ranged from stable to critical, police said.

Those who died were mourned Sunday. Minners was a second-grade boys’ resident adviser at Girard College who was “a mentor and role model” to his students, the American Federation of Teachers said in a statement on his death.

Jackson was an Atlantic City native who in previous years fought as a welterweight boxer, according to an online athletic profile, and was known locally for coaching neighborhood youth boxing programs. More information about Quinn was not immediately available, though friends posted on Facebook mourning her death.

In addition to the South Street shooting, there were at least nine other shootings in Philadelphia over the weekend. Thirty-one people were shot between 6 a.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Sunday, according to city data.

‘This is a mass shooting’

South Street is a popular spot for nightlife, especially in the summer, and hundreds of people were out on Saturday night. The Police Department had extra officers on South Street on Saturday — Outlaw did not say how many — but it is a large area and a dense crowd gathered, officials said.

Just before 11:30, a concert at the Theatre of Living Arts had recently ended, and outdoor tables were full of patrons.

Eric Rosso had watched the heavy metal concert and was walking down South Street, past groups of people mingling, on his way home when gunshots erupted. He wasn’t sure whether it was fireworks.

Then more shots rang out, and he saw bullets ricocheting off the street. Everyone started running.

“It was like watching a scene from afar as it was happening in slow motion,” said Rosso, 34. “I was realizing, this is a mass shooting event, that’s what this sounds like.”

» READ MORE: What we know and don’t know about the South Street mass shooting that killed 3, injured at least 11

The mayor, who was out of town attending the national mayors conference in Reno, Nev., decried the violence.

“I know this shooting has shaken many people in our community,” Kenney said. “The safety of our residents and visitors is our top priority. We cannot accept continued violence as a way of life in our country.”

He said the shooting was a “horrendous, brazen and despicable act of gun violence” and called for stronger laws regulating gun purchases and possession.

Kenney canceled a scheduled appearance at a second conference in New York City and will return to Philadelphia on Monday.

District Attorney Larry Krasner, who was attending the city’s Pride march Sunday, called on legislators to “boycott” lobbyists from the National Rifle Association and decline donations from the gun lobby, saying the mass shooting is “about as bad as it gets.”

The shooting drew calls for action from elected officials in the city and state, including Councilmember Mark Squilla, who said the city should consider “drastic measures,” such as closing South Street late at night to protect businesses and residents.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Pennsylvania needs “more law enforcement and better laws.” And Democrats who represent Philadelphia in Harrisburg expressed anger and frustration that Republican leadership has declined to take up a variety of gun control measures, including those that would ban or limit extended magazines like one of the shooters is believed to have used.

“I cannot believe that our society continues to tolerate this, or elected officials do,” said State Sen. Nikil Saval, who lives blocks from the scene of the shooting. “There are ways to prevent it. It’s not a mystery.”

What happened

Violence in the area began just after 11 p.m., when two men dressed in black ran south on Fourth Street and onto Bainbridge Street — both of them firing handguns, according to surveillance video obtained by The Inquirer. No one was shot.

It remained unknown Sunday whether that shooting was related to what happened about half an hour later on South Street. Detectives responded to Bainbridge Street and began gathering evidence, while other officers called for surrounding streets to be closed to traffic.

But before they could finish, according to Chief Inspector Frank Vanore, the gunfire erupted on South Street.

Three men got into a fight on the 200 block of South Street. Video shows the encounter began as a fistfight, with one man exchanging words with two others, one of whom appears to draw a handgun.

People nearby began to panic. “They about to shoot!” a woman said in the video.

After a short brawl, a volley of gunshots rang out. Vanore said two of the three men fired at each other. One of them — the man who first drew a gun — was killed, Vanore said. The other was hospitalized in critical condition.

Police officers said they believed three other people then drew guns and began shooting at the crowds.

One was a man on the 200 block of South Street, near an intersection with American Street. Police said he fired westbound on South Street. A responding officer returned fire, and Outlaw said the officer likely struck him.

The man dropped his gun and an extended magazine and ran away, police said. At least two other guns were fired amid the mayhem, Vanore said, but police have not yet identified the suspected shooters.

“It was just shooting, and people running — people were going crazy,” said a man who said he was working the grill at a deli on the corner of Third and South Streets. “I heard many gunshots. Too many.”

People stampeded down the street, screaming, video showed.

“Once it started, I didn’t think it was going to stop,” said Smith, who’d been standing outside. “There was guttural screaming. I just heard screams.”

Many ran into nearby storefronts for shelter. At O’Neals, a bar at Third and South, employees balled up napkins and dampened them, passing them out to those who ran inside, said Eric Walsh, who was working at the bar. Some had skinned knees or elbows from falling in the street; others had blood spattered on their shoes.

Meanwhile, officers relayed a chaotic scene over the radio as throngs of weekend partiers struggled to flee.

“We’ve got multiple victims, we got hundreds of people,” one officer said.

On Sunday morning, firefighters were washing blood off the pavement on South Street. Police were collecting evidence, and chalk outlines that had circled shell casings remained on the ground. Blood stains were visible on the street, on cars, and on things the crowd had left behind, such as a once-white sweatshirt.

Outlaw said she was devastated by the shooting and pledged to “get to the bottom” of what happened, calling it beyond unacceptable.

“I don’t want us to normalize this,” she said. “This is not something that’s normal in the city of Philadelphia.”

Correction: A previous version of this article used an incorrect age provided by police for Quinn, one of the victims who was killed.

Staff writers Ryan W. Briggs, Ximena Conde, Aubrey Whelan, Kristen A. Graham, Rita Giordano, Dylan Purcell, and John Duchneskie contributed to this article.