Murphy: Keep holding Trenton arts festival where 18 were shot
TRENTON — New Jersey's governor is urging Trenton to keep holding its annual all-night arts festival despite the outbreak of violence at this year's event.
Democrat Phil Murphy said Monday the impoverished city of about 85,000 needs something "like that now more than ever." The Art All Night festival has been a badge of pride for the city.
An outbreak of apparent gang-related gunfire early Sunday at the festival left a suspected gunman dead and 22 others injured. Authorities have said 17 people were injured by gunfire, in addition to one of the deceased gunman.
Mayor-elect Reed Gusciora agrees the event should be held again but says new security measures may be needed.
The all-night arts showcase started 12 years ago. Residents say it typically has a fun vibe, but Sunday's event seemed tense.
It's held over a mile from downtown, in a historic former factory that supplied cables for the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges.
A Facebook post warned that the festival would be the target of a shooting and urged people not to go, according to a city councilman-elect.
That post was made ahead of an actual shooting incident that left an alleged gunman dead and 22 injured — 17 of them by gunfire itself.
Jerrel Blakeley said at a press conference on Monday he found out about the post after the early-Sunday shooting, but thought law enforcement was aware of the post, according to an NJ.com report.
"Please, please DO NOT GO TO ART ALL NIGHT! THEY WILL BE SHOOTING IT UP!" read a screenshot of the post on the news site. In a screenshot of the post on the Trentonian the message was posted on Saturday at 11:25 a.m. The fair started at 3 p.m., according to the festival website.
Shots were fired amid the crowd of an estimated 1,000 people at the 24-hour festival at the Roebling Wire Works Building on South Clinton Avenue around 2:50 a.m., according to Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri. People ran for the exits of the building.
Activist Ed Forchion told New Jersey 101.5 this weekend he saw police officers shoot a man who was running from the violence — apparently the deceased alleged gunman — then shoot him again on the ground. Forchion had initially said on a Facebook video that person had no gun, but later acknowledged he saw what appeared to be a gun when he reviewed the recording.
Authorities have not confirmed those details, and have said they are continuing to investigate the circumstances around the shootings. They said the incidents may have been tied to a carjacking outside the building.
Onofri said there was "a shift in the mood inside the building" and several altercations inside and outside of the festival related to a dispute between neighborhood gang members. Organizers were told to shut down the festival.
There are three suspects in the case so far in the case:
- Tahaij Wells, 33, the suspect who was killed, had recently been released from prison and in February on homicide-related charges, Onofri said. He was shot by police. NJ.com previously reported he was sentenced in 2004, when he was 17 years old, to 18 years in state prison for a deadly shooting after an argument. He was additionally sentenced in 2010 to another six years for allegedly helping a gang leader run his operation from behind bars. Wells was serving five years of supervised after his prison sentence ended in February.
- Amir Armstrong, 23, remained hospitalized in stable condition Monday and was charged with a weapons offense.
- A third suspect is also hospitalized and also charged with a weapons offense. Authorities have not released his name.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include the correct information about Tahaij Wells' release from custody.