‘THEY WILL BE SHOOTING IT UP!’ — Post warned of Trenton arts gunfire
TRENTON — A Facebook post warned that the Art All Night 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.
"We have been made aware of Facebook and social media posts and are trying to run down the timing of when those posts may have been made. It is part of the investigation," spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio told New Jersey 101.5 in an email.
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. Officials also acknowledged reports of a carjacking that may be related to he shooting.
There are three suspects in the case so far:
- Tahaij Wells, 33, the suspect who was killed, had recently been released from prison 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 still serving a five-year term of supervised release when the shooting occured.
- Amir Armstrong, 23, remained hospitalized in stable condition Monday and was charged with a weapons offense.
- A third suspect is also hospitalized and charged with a weapons offense. Authorities have not released his name.
Onofri said there may be other suspects.
Many questions remain surrounding the shooting at the Art All Night Festival early Sunday.
How many shots were fired?
- Onofri would not disclose how many shots were fired pending an investigation by State Police and an ATF dog that can sniff out traces of ammunition.
- Ed "Weedman" Forchion told New Jersey 101.5 he was standing near a group of people arguing and then heard 10 shots fired. He said he could hear the argument, but didn't think it would escalate to the point that it did. As the argument continued, Forchion said, he saw organizers closing the door to the venue, with people pushing their way to get inside before the doors completely closed. As Forchion made his way to the corner of the building, he said, he heard another six shots.
- The Trentonian reported around 70 shell casings were found at the scene, citing an unnamed police source.
Who fired first when police arrived?
- The suspects appeared to be shooting at each other and not at the crowd, according to Onofri. Once police arrived "we believe it was the suspects who fired first at each other," Onofri said.
- After the initial volley of gunfire, Forchion said, he saw a man run out of the building and past police officers on the scene. While he did not know if the man who ran was one of the shooters, Forchion said, police shot the man and then worked to keep him on the ground. He said police fired at him again from the front once he was down. "He went down in the street, one of them ran around in front of him and was telling him to stay on the ground," Forchion said. "He was wiggling around. He couldn't stay down. He was bouncing up and down."
- It's not yet clear what prompted the initial firing, though Onofri has said the carjacking could be involved.
What did the Facebook poster know?
- Authorities haven't released the name of the person who posted to Facebook, or said anything about any interviews with that person. He or she has not yet been quoted in any media reports.
Why was the third suspect not identified? Are there other suspects?
- Authorities haven't said why they haven't disclosed the name of the third suspect.
Did the suspects have the guns legally? Were they weapons that are legally available?
- One of the handguns recovered at the scene was a handgun with an extended capacity magazine, according to Onofri. He did not disclose any additional information about any of the weapons.
When can artists get their artwork back?
- Artists whose work was displayed at the festival were told via a Facebook post their work could not yet be picked up. As of Monday no additional information was posted.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include the correct information about Tahaij Wells' release from custody.