A day of celebration was marred when eight people were shot and several others injured during a stampede to get out of Miami’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, on a day when the civil rights icon was honored across the country.
Police had two people in custody and had recovered two weapons within an hour of Monday’s gunfire. But they said it was too early to offer a narrative into why a day that was supposed to be about non-violence, erupted into mayhem.
The shooting happened at the Liberty City park at 6000 NW 32nd Ct., on a day that typically attracts hundreds, even thousands, in a celebratory mood after the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade. The parade makes its way down Northwest 54th Street, eight blocks from 62nd Street — or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
All was calm until around 3:40 p.m. when the shots rang out, even as bikers and ATV riders roared past in celebration. Their motto: “Bikes up, Guns down.”
Police evacuated and closed down the park after the shootings as investigators combed the area for clues. The festival at the park, where families gather to eat and listen to music, has become a staple of the post-MLK parade in Miami-Dade.
Terrell Dandy, who was in the park, said all was peaceful before he heard three gunshots. Then the crowd began to stampede out of the park.
“It was good until you had these idiots out there shooting,” said Dandy. “It was just a bunch of commotion.”
Meanwhile, an emotional Shante Kelsey, whose 18-year-old daughter Shawnteria Wilson was shot, was critical of police response on a day when thousands of people flooded Liberty City’s streets. She said the two got separated before she learned of the shootings.
“I felt like nobody was there to help my daughter,” said Kelsey.
Wilson is in stable condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Relatives and friends of the shooting victims gathered at Jackson seeking updates on the shooting victims.
Only one of the seven others who were shot — a 20-year-old man identified by police as Jerome Battle — is in critical condition. Three girls — ages 14, 15 and 17 — were shot and were in stable condition. Police later identified them as Lajada Benson, Nakya-Senat Butler and Alfanesha Times, respectively. A 30-year-old, whom police identified as Michael Clarke, was also in stable condition.
Two minors, girls ages 11 and 13, were grazed and treated at the scene and released to their parents. Police identified the 11-year-old as Ciara Johnson and the 13-year-old as Keionna Green.
The Miami parade has been a tradition since the 1970s. Thousands gather on the streets to barbecue, listen to music, show off cars and chat each other up. Local bands play and politicians are a common sight celebrating the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.
Earlier in the day civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis spoke for 32 minutes to the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project in Jungle Island’s Treetop Ballroom, telling the young audience, to “never, ever hate.”
By late early evening Monday police continued to interview the two men in custody, but still hadn’t shared a reason for the violence.
“The nature of the shooting, we don't have information on that right now,” said Miami-Dade Det. Marjorie Eloi. “There was no gun exchange on our part.”
Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez took to Twitter to voice frustration over the shooting.
“@MiamiDadePD shameful closing to the MLK Parade,” he wrote. “Certainly not what the followers of Dr. King Jr. want out of our community.”