Local organizers and officials marched silently down Beatties Ford Road on Monday to memorialize victims of a mass shooting that occurred there in the early morning hours of Monday during the third night of Juneteenth celebrations.
At least three people were killed and 11 others injured after shots rang out at the intersection of Beatties Ford Road and Catherine Simmons Avenue just after midnight on Monday morning, surpassing the violence seen in the mass shooting on UNC Charlotte’s campus in 2019.
Kelly Miller, 29; Christopher Gleaton, 28; and Jamaa Cassell, 39; were all killed in the gunfire, which started just after midnight as an ambulance arrived on the scene to respond to a hit-and-run that had occurred at the celebration. Friends and family of a fourth gunshot victim, Dairyon Stevenson, have reported that he also passed away, though police would not confirm his death with Queen City Nerve. [UPDATE: In a briefing to city council on Monday evening, CMPD Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings stated that there were only three deaths, and two victims still in critical condition.]
In total, nine people were shot on Sunday morning and five were hit by cars, including the original hit-and-run victim and four others struck by cars attempting to flee the scene. Videos from the scene show people fleeing as multiple suspects fire guns, some of which were aimed at the crowd of more than 400.
At a press conference on Monday morning, CMPD Deputy Chief Gerald Smith said investigators believe more than 100 rounds had been fired at the scene, which stretched from LaSalle Street to Catherine Simmons Avenue on Beatties Ford Road. Smith voiced his frustrations with the fact that, of the hundreds of people who were there on Monday morning, no one had come forward with information about who shot and what the motives were. He asked that anyone with footage of the incident or any other leads call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.
When asked about videos showing a CMPD officer walking through the crowd after the shooting, cursing and pointing an assault rifle at those who remained on the scene, Smith said he had no problem with the way he or other officers responded.
“They were doing the best that they can to make sense out of something that is chaotic — a mass-casualty scene,” Smith said. “I would say that if someone was in fear because of how the officer tried to take control of the scene, they should ask the victims who were laying there bleeding how much in fear were they … The officers did what they could to take control in order to get to people who were fighting for their lives.”
Queen City Nerve was on the scene for the first night of Juneteenth celebrations on Beatties Ford Road on Friday night, after people broke off from a daytime celebration hosted by the University Park Neighborhood Association and continued to party into the night.
Smith emphasized that the University Park celebration, which had been sanctioned and planned since the beginning of the year, went off without a hitch. Later that night, however, some members of the group that had continued celebrating on Beatties Ford Road began firing guns in the air and the crowd disbanded.
On Saturday, the second night of Juneteenth celebrations, some police officers shut the road down for a bit so that more vehicles could not enter the area where partygoers were congregating. Police later left the area to answer more pressing calls, and the gathering ended peacefully. Then on Sunday night and Monday morning, “things went really bad,” Smith said.
According to Mario Black, a leader with the Million Youth March of Charlotte (MYMC) who was present for all three nights, both his friend and sister began mentioning how things felt different as soon as they arrived at the site on Sunday night. His sister mentioned early in the evening that she wanted to leave, but they remained.
After the shooting started, which can be seen on Black’s video above, he ran to his car with those he came with. Fellow MYMC organizer DeMarco Blair was hit by a car trying to flee the scene, and would be hospitalized until around 5 a.m. When Black and his friends left the car to find Blair and see how they could help, they were faced with a scene that has replayed in Black’s head since it happened.
“It was a warzone, a complete war zone,” Black recalled. “You had bodies laying everywhere, glass everywhere, it looked like a war zone.”
Smith told reporters of a chaotic scene in which police officers had to form “rescue teams” to exfiltrate firefighters as they tried to treat patients. However, Black stated that he saw no such attacks, only bystanders becoming frustrated that victims were left lying in the street while police cleared the scene.
“The aggression was because bodies was laying there before anybody attempted to do any type of anything,” Black said. “Medics were on the scene, I don’t know if they were assessing each individual. At each body, there were people there trying to comfort the victims, but there wasn’t no medics coming.”
On Monday afternoon, local organizers and officials led a silent march from Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Beatties Ford Road to the scene of the shooting to pay tribute to the victims. Kass Ottley with Seeking Justice CLT, Sheriff Garry McFadden and Black walked at the front of the group and placed bouquets of flowers at different spots around the scene of the shooting.
Black said he gained some comfort from the afternoon march, but was also re-traumatized by returning to the spot where he witnessed such violence only hours before.
“Everything was playing back in my head,” Black said. “I knew exactly where I was standing; I was leaning on the tree. It was just hard … it was a sense of solidarity as we marched down and did the moment of silence, but it’s still now playing back in my mind about everything.”
Around the same time as that march began, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held a press conference announcing that he will officially retire from the force on July 1 rather than wait for September. Putney’s original plan to leave at the end of 2019 and return for the Republican National Convention (RNC) raised legal questions, forcing him to stay on until the convention ended.
Since it was recently announced that most of the RNC will be held in Jacksonville due to concerns about COVID-19 restrictions in North Carolina, Putney will now leave office on July 1.
Addressing the Charlotte community at Monday’s press conference, Putney said, “I’m humbled that you’d give me the opportunity to serve you in the first place. You know my story, you know the journey. I appreciate the fact that this is the best city that I could have ever chosen to make my home and to work for in this police service.”
Putney will be replaced by CMPD Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings.