Philadelphia police on Tuesday were attempting to determine who fired a gun and from where during Monday night’s Independence Day celebrations, in a shooting that injured two police officers and caused the panicked evacuation of thousands from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said detectives “really don’t have a clear picture of where the bullets came from.” Officers stationed around the Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the Wawa Welcome America Festival did not hear shots or see muzzle flashes before the officers were hit, he said.
Detectives were investigating the possibility that the two officers were struck by stray bullets from celebratory gunfire, potentially fired from some distance away, officials said. In an internal email, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told the police force that the motive and location of the shooter or shooters remained unknown. Later, Mayor Jim Kenney said in an interview with WCAU-TV in Philadelphia that the shots had come from outside the event site.
Authorities had not identified any suspects or made any arrests by Tuesday evening. No one else was shot in the incident, which brought a scary end to the city’s festivities around 10 p.m. Police asked the public for information, and the police officers’ union is offering a $20,000 reward.
Vanore told The Philadelphia Inquirer that investigators were conducting ballistics tests and examining the officers’ injuries to figure out how far the shots may have traveled — or what the trajectory may have been — and detectives were seeking additional video evidence.
“We just don’t know the origin,” he said.
The officers, Philadelphia Police Officer Sergio Diggs and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy John Foster, were treated and released from the hospital within a few hours of the shooting.
The incident caused late-night chaos as thousands attending the Fourth of July concert and fireworks show fled. Police told festival-goers to leave, saying there was an active shooter. Confusion was clear as waves of people ran away at different times.
“Police said, ‘Get out, there’s a shooter! Get out,’” said Jeff Belonger, 55, of Fairmount, who was working at a food truck at 22nd and the Parkway. He and his crew hid in the Philly Fry truck, waiting as police swept the area. “The first hour was really intense, because no one knew what was going on.”
After a deadly shooting at a suburban Chicago parade earlier Monday, people were on edge across the nation, with panic reportedly breaking out at some other Independence Day celebrations.
That included in Harrisburg, where a fight and a shout of “Gun!” caused hundreds watching the city’s fireworks show to run in fear of an active shooter, local news outlets reported.
On Tuesday morning, the Parkway was littered with things people had left behind: shoes, baby strollers, star-spangled hats. Overturned metal barricades lay on their sides, and folding chairs sat on the pavement, some overturned.
The mayhem came a month after the June 4 shooting on South Street, when gunmen killed three people and wounded 11 — and during another deadly year in the city, with year-to-date homicides nearly matching last year’s record-setting pace.
As of Tuesday, more than 1,100 people had been shot in the city so far this year, according to Philadelphia Police Department statistics. From Monday morning into early Tuesday morning, police reported 11 other shootings, with four people killed in separate incidents. In total, the city has seen 268 homicides in 2022.
The July 4 shooting, alongside the everyday gun violence that regularly wounds or kills Philadelphians and the recent spate of mass shootings in the United States, prompted exhaustion, fear and frustration for some.
“We cannot do nothing. We must do something to address the challenges we are faced with,” Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson said at an afternoon news conference. “This is not OK and we must do something to stop it.”
Mayor Jim Kenney had also expressed frustration at a 12:20 a.m. news conference after the shooting — indicating that he looked forward to not being mayor anymore because he was constantly worried about something bad happening at big events in the city.
He came under criticism for those comments and released a statement apologizing, saying he cared deeply about Philadelphians and their safety.
Aside from the midnight news conference, neither the mayor nor the Police Department held public briefings Tuesday, though city officials planned a news conference for Wednesday.
Kenney’s office did not grant a request for an interview. The city did not answer questions from the Inquirer about the event, including how many people were in the crowd.
Uncertainty reigned on the Parkway right after the officers were struck, and few new details about what happened emerged Tuesday.
Diggs, the Philadelphia highway patrol officer who was shot, said he initially had no idea he’d been struck by a bullet. He and Foster were among officers assigned to crowd control at the fireworks show.
“I honestly didn’t know I was shot at first,” Diggs said in a telephone interview. “It felt like I got hit in the head with a blunt object.”
Diggs, 36, a 14-year veteran of the force, told the Inquirer he had been by himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — he’d thrown something into a trash can and was walking back toward a group of officers.
Diggs said he felt “something really heavy, or like a blunt object, striking me in the top of the head.” Then he noticed he was bleeding.
He said he did not recall seeing another bullet striking Foster but heard chatter about it on police radio afterward. They both were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Police on the scene took cover and told revelers to get down, and soon an order was issued to evacuate the Parkway, according to Outlaw’s internal email. Bystanders recounted police officers telling them to leave because there was a shooter.
Initially concerned about the possibility of a sniper on a boulevard lined with high-rise apartment buildings, SWAT and K-9 units searched neighboring residential towers.
Police sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, said the rounds that were later recovered were in nearly pristine condition. Whether they were fired in celebration — a practice that wounds people across the nation every year — remained uncertain.
Research has shown that shots fired straight up into the air slow as they fall — a bullet might go two miles high in 20 seconds, but its velocity can decline by as much as 90% falling down.
Both officers suffered graze wounds: Diggs to the forehead and Foster to the shoulder. Foster, 44, has been assigned to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad for three years and is often dispatched to surrounding counties to help boost patrols during large events, according to spokesperson Oscar Gamble.
Foster was home and recovering, Gamble said. So was Diggs, who said he was with family Tuesday afternoon — his head bandaged up, but “thankful I’m still alive to talk about it.”
City Council members condemned the “lawlessness” at an afternoon news conference, gathering in their City Hall chambers to lament the violence.
While Council President Darrell L. Clarke and his allies stopped short of announcing any new initiative, they outlined recent investments in police and anti-violence programming and pledged to bolster their coordination with other branches of government and law enforcement.
“We cannot give up. We cannot let them win. People in the city of Philadelphia deserve the right to have quality of life,” said Clarke. “You can’t have an environment where everybody is carrying a gun.”
Clarke said laws against carrying weapons illegally must be enforced and suggested conversations about other tactics for decreasing gun violence, including stop-and-frisk, the police practice that led to thousands of unconstitutional stops of mostly Black residents and was curbed dramatically in recent years.
He said city leaders could not wait for state or federal lawmakers to act, but did not present any new initiatives. Pennsylvania cities are unable to pass their own gun control legislation because of the state’s preemption law, which effectively gives the state legislature sole power to pass gun control measures.
Separately, two council members, Derek Green and Allan Domb — both rumored to be considering runs for mayor — called on Kenney to resign. The mayor told WCAU he would not resign.
Clarke said calls for the mayor’s resignation were not productive.
“Right now, we need to deal with this,” Clarke said, referring to gun violence, “and what we’ve been doing has not been working at the level that it needs to work.”
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