‘Shots fired! Shots fired! … Everybody out!’ Terror and chaos at Trenton arts festival
Mercer County authorities release 911 call and police body camera footage in Trenton arts festival shooting.
Terrified festivalgoers scrambled for safety when bullets rang out at a Trenton arts show earlier this month in a shooting that injured 22 people and left a suspected gunman dead.
"Shots fired! Shots fired!" an officer yelled. "Everybody out!"
The bloody, chaotic scene that followed was captured on police body camera footage and in frightened 911 calls released Wednesday by Mercer County authorities.
About 1,000 people were at the show at the Roebling Wire Works warehouse early on the morning of June 18 when the shooting began and the place descended into a melee.
Police quickly converged on the venue, later described by authorities as a massive crime scene. They pointed to weapons left behind by dueling gang members, marked spent shell casings on the ground, and scoured the area for the injured, the footage shows. At one point, several officers took cover in a crouched position with their weapons drawn.
"There's multiple people shot. We don't have a number yet," an officer said.
With sirens wailing, police and event volunteers rushed to tend to those caught in the cross fire. Inside, a man believed to be one of the gunmen, later identified as Amir Armstrong, is seen sprawled on the ground, bleeding profusely from an apparent gunshot to the head. Other wounded people could be heard moaning in pain.
Armstrong was conscious, police later said, and told officers he didn't know if he'd been shot more than once. As police began cutting off his clothing to check for other wounds, they said, they discovered a silver revolver tucked in his waistband. He was later charged with weapons offenses.
Nearby, an officer could be heard reassuring a wounded man that an ambulance was on the way.
"Keep talking to me, bud," he said. "They're coming."
Detective Samuel Gonzalez and Officer Olix Heredia were among the first officers to rush inside the building after hearing multiple shots fired. Gonzalez estimated that 200 to 300 people inside began "running, falling and screaming, 'Someone's shooting, someone's shooting.' "
He said he alerted an operator and requested backup. The officers entered the building with their weapons drawn and began ordering people to get down on the ground for safety, he said.
At one point, an officer can be seen on video angrily ordering an attendee to stop taking photographs of the frantic scene in the warehouse, where artwork lined the walls.
Authorities have said the shooting stemmed from a dispute between neighborhood gang members that escalated at the popular event. Police instructed organizers to shut down the festival after physical altercations broke out before the shooting.
When the bullets stopped flying inside and outside the warehouse on the 600 block of South Clinton Avenue around 2:45 a.m., authorities say, 17 people had been wounded by gunfire, and at least five were injured in the rush to escape. Among the victims was a 13-year-old boy, whose wounds initially left him in critical condition.
Frantic family members were captured on the body camera footage rushing to a hospital to check on loved ones. Police officers were positioned in front of the hospital, directing them.
Back at the scene, several police officers tended to the wounded, applying pressure to stop the bleeding, loading the injured in their police cruisers, and rushing them to hospitals.
One officer is seen comforting a distraught young man who had been shot in the foot.
"Hold on, baby boy. Stay strong," he said. "We're going to take care of you."
Tahaij Wells, 32, of Trenton, was shot and killed by police. Two others, Davone White, 26, and Amstrong, 23, also of Trenton, were taken into custody on weapons charges. Both sustained gunshots and were hospitalized. Details of how they were wounded have not been released.
Some of the video, released by authorities in response to an Open Public Records Request, was redacted because it contained graphic footage of the injuries suffered by some of those hurt, the Prosecutor's Office said. Authorities released 25 body camera recordings and more than two dozen 911 audio recordings.
Casey DeBlasio, a spokesperson for Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri, declined to comment on the recordings, citing an ongoing investigation. Additional footage may be released later, she said.
Also on Wednesday, authorities released the names of the four Trenton officers involved in the shooting: Detectives Matthew Bledsoe, Michael Cipriano, and Eliezer Ramos and Officer Robert Furman. All are on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Prosecutor's Office. The investigation will review whether the use of deadly force was justified.
Authorities have not said whether police officers had shot some of those who were injured. The prosecutor has declined to reveal how many rounds were fired, or how many times Wells was struck. Last week, Onofri said investigators were collecting ballistic evidence that may help determine which bullets struck the bystanders.
Authorities have said Wells and the two suspects in custody were affiliated with gangs, but could not say whether they were members of the same gang. A community activist said the three were acquaintances.
White was charged with unlawful possession of a handgun and a large-capacity magazine that could hold 30 rounds and Armstrong was charged with illegal possession of a Silver Taurus revolver. Their conditions were not available Wednesday.
Wells was released from prison in February after serving time in connection with a fatal shooting committed when he was 17. Even while behind bars, he remained involved with the 93 Gangsters' Bloods and helped run the gang from prison.
>> READ MORE: 'I could feel percussion of the shots,' Trenton festival shooting witness says
Before the shootings, there were several physical altercations inside and outside the venue, and police instructed organizers to shut down the event. Police could be seen in the video footage dispersing the crowd, and some attendees initially refused to leave, unaware that the event was ending early.
"That's a wrap, folks. They're shutting it down for the night," an officer told the crowd. "We don't have enough police. They don't have enough staff to handle it."
At the police station, a man and his sister were processed on disorderly persons charges. The woman broke down in tears, telling an officer that two of her friends had been shot. When her brother complained about their arrest, an officer responded: "What's crazy is how y'all [are] acting in the streets."
The violence at the festival cut short the event, which aimed to attract 30,000 visitors to experience visual artists, short films, and a diverse range of about 60 live music groups in a 24-hour marathon. The remainder of the festival, now in its 12th year, was canceled. Organizers and city officials have vowed to continue the event in the future.