The bullets that struck two officers during Philadelphia’s Independence Day celebrations were fired from the same gun — and came from outside the event site, potentially fired from up to a mile or more away, police said Wednesday.
A host of other questions remained unanswered on the second day after the shooting, which caused the evacuation of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway just as the Fourth of July fireworks show was beginning.
Police still don’t know who fired the shots Monday night, where the person fired from, or whether the shots were aimed into the air in so-called celebratory gunfire, Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said at a news conference.
“We believe now, based on no one hearing a gunshot and based on the way this bullet came down, they were quite a distance away,” not on the Wawa Welcome America event site, Vanore said. “They could’ve been anywhere behind the Art Museum, the south end of the Art Museum. Some of the detectives said to me they could’ve been on the expressway or beyond. I have no idea.”
He said it was unlikely that a shooter could have targeted the officers if the shots were fired from a long distance away. Ballistics tests showed that the .40-caliber rounds — which struck officers standing in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — were shot out of the same firearm, Vanore said.
Police have not found any other ballistic evidence, such as fired cartridge casings or other bullets.
The bullets were in near-pristine condition and neither shot lodged in the officers’ bodies, leading police to conclude they could have been fired from over a mile away. No officers or people around the Art Museum reported hearing gunshots or seeing muzzle flashes.
Investigators were continuing to review video evidence that might lead to clues about where the gunfire came from, he said. They asked anyone with tips or cell phone photos or videos from the night to send them to the Police Department.
And the police officers’ union said Wednesday that it would offer a reward of $42,500 — an increase from the amount offered Tuesday, thanks to donations — for information that leads to the arrest of a suspect.
The officers who were shot — Philadelphia Officer Sergio Diggs and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy John Foster, both recovering “in good spirits,” police said — were about 20 feet apart when they were hit.
Assuming there was an active shooter, police told people in the enormous crowd — at least 10,000 people, according to conservative Kenney administration estimates — to leave, prompting the mass evacuation and panic among many who fled.
“This is a deeply traumatizing incident for our city,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at Wednesday’s briefing. “This incident, combined with the absolutely devastating news out of Highland Park, Illinois, earlier in the day, has left us all shaken and looking for answers.”
Shooting a gun, even if done into the sky or in celebration, can result in criminal charges ranging from reckless endangerment to, in cases where someone is killed, murder.
“Celebratory gunfire on any occasion or gunfire not aimed at another individual that nonetheless harms others is a very serious crime,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement Wednesday.
Both Krasner and Kenney said lawmakers in Harrisburg should move on statewide gun control measures, which the Republican-controlled legislature has long refused to consider.
Krasner said in his statement that the investigation would be “challenging” and lengthy.
Authorities on Wednesday were able to fill in only a few details. Vanore gave this account:
A few minutes before 9:47 p.m. Monday, as officers began preparing for fireworks to be set off, they formed a line in front of the Art Museum on the 2500 block of Spring Garden Street to cut off pedestrian traffic.
Diggs walked to a trash can to throw something away before getting in line. Walking back, he felt something hit him in the head. He stumbled. Some officers noticed, but didn’t know what was wrong. One realized Diggs was bleeding.
The bullet pierced Diggs’ hat and lodged inside.
Foster, who was about 20 feet away from Diggs, began walking toward him, then felt something strike his own shoulder. Foster kept walking, but when he looked at his shoulder, he saw he was bleeding.
“We didn’t know what we were dealing with,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Joel Dales. “The officers didn’t even know they were shot. One officer said, ‘No, he’s definitely shot.’ … So at that point, we put the word out: Let’s evacuate the Parkway.”
As some chaos ensued, people made 911 calls and police officers, initially concerned about a possible sniper, searched the area, including nearby apartments.
Officials said they would “reassess” their security plans for major city events and make changes if needed.
“We need to move forward and not be paralyzed by fear,” said Kenney, “and continue to do the things we’re used to doing as safely as we can.”
The mayor also said he regretted comments he made after the shooting, saying he was frustrated and emotional when he told reporters just after midnight on Tuesday he looked forward to not being mayor anymore.
“What I was getting at was the collective weight of issues in our city and our nation that has brought collective trauma,” he said Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time since his controversial comments. “I love our city and as mayor, there’s nothing more I want than to help solve this problem and to keep our residents and visitors safe.”
Kenney said he would not resign, as some have called for him to do, including a few rumored 2023 mayoral candidates who are sitting members of City Council.
Kenney said he had met with doctors and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital after the shooting, just before he spoke to reporters at 12:20 a.m.
“Every homicide, every shooting is another piece of me torn away, and I had just left the bedside of Officer Diggs … met his wife, his mother, his grandmother, hugged all them, and went outside, and I was just a little raw emotion,” Kenney said Wednesday.
“It was the frustration of the moment. I’m not a robot, I’m a human being.”
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