A South Jersey man has been charged in connection with a shooting at a birthday party that killed two people and injured 12 as several hundred people gathered Saturday night at a home in Fairfield Township, Cumberland County, authorities said Monday.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, speaking at a news conference outside the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, called the shooting “horrendous and horrific.”
“This was a birthday party,” he said. “A birthday party is supposed to be a joyous event, not a target for those hell-bent on inflicting harm on a community.”
The shooting occurred just before midnight Saturday at a home in Fairfield Township, a rural community outside of Bridgeton.
Kevin Dawkins, 36, of East Commerce Street in Bridgeton, was arrested Sunday on weapons charges, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said. She declined to say if he was a suspected shooter, citing the ongoing investigation. He is in custody at the Cumberland County jail.
An attorney in the Cumberland County public defender’s office, which is representing Dawkins, could not be reached for comment Monday.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal identified those who died as Kevin Elliott, 30, and Asia Hester, 25, both of Bridgeton. The remaining victims ranged in age from 19 to 35 years old, authorities said, and some were in serious condition.
“This was not a random act of violence,” Grewal said. “This was a targeted attack.” The investigation remains “active and ongoing,” he said, adding that multiple firearms and shell casings were recovered from the scene.
Grewal said more arrests were expected. Authorities declined to provide a motive for the shooting.
“Fourteen lives were changed forever,” Webb-McRae said. Several of the victims, she said, were in “dire condition.”
Col. Patrick Callahan, the acting superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said troopers responded to the shooting at a residence on the 1000 block of East Commerce Street shortly after 11:30 p.m.
Many who attended the party had already left the scene when first responders arrived, he said.
He said some of the revelers had earlier that night attended a party on the unit block of King Drive in Fairfield, where state troopers had responded to complaints of noise. That gathering broke up about 11 p.m., he said.
Authorities declined to say if the person living at the home where the shooting occurred was the person celebrating a birthday.
Callahan said witnesses were still being interviewed and search warrants executed.
What happened in Fairfield, Murphy said, “is a microcosm of the scale of gun violence we see elsewhere in other communities and our state and across the country. We are at the point where this kind of horrific scene is almost part of our daily lives. It has become commonplace.
“If there is one thing we can never normalize, it is senseless gun violence,” he said.
No one answered the door Monday afternoon at the two-story home with yellow siding where the shooting occurred on a busy, two-way stretch of East Commerce Street. The front lawn showed remnants of a party, with balloons still tied to a gazebo, picnic tables still out, and a white tent that had been dismantled.
At Hester’s home a few blocks away, a relative declined to comment. No one answered the door at an address listed for Elliott.
Authorities ask anyone with information to contact the New Jersey State Police Bridgeton Station at 856-451-0101 or the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office website at www.njccpo.org/tips.