City Park Shooting

So. I haven’t been very useful for the last 24 hours. This has been a tough few days.

To begin, Chris’s grandmother, the amazing Nana Brown, who made me realize I do like stuffing (as long as it’s made by her) and who tells the most delightful stories about getting wrong number text messages on her only-for-emergency cell phone (They says things like “How u been!” and “wut it do!”) was diagnosed with multiple cancers. We’re waiting for more details, but when they rattle off a list of affected organs, it doesn’t sound good.

That alone would be enough.

But Sunday night we went to City Park Jazz to hang out with our friend, Peter. Peter was working at the bike parking corral in City Park, and we volunteered to help out.

On this map, we were where the orange mark is, in the lower left of this picture. We split a six pack amongst the three of us, complained about the heat, and chatted with cyclists who came to park their bikes.

Just after 8 pm, right after the music wrapped up, a sudden swarm of people came screaming and barreling around the corner of the building towards us. It was quick, a burst of maybe six or seven seconds of people streaming around the corner, girls screaming, some people who seemed to be laughing maybe? Most people stopped running once they had turned the corner.

We were confused, we couldn’t see around the building and I was scared to look. Chris told me to get inside to bike parking area, afraid we’d get caught and trampled in a stampede of people, and he stood in front of me. Maybe 20 seconds later another wave of people came running and screaming around the corner. The park was crowded, but people were definitely running towards us, and away from something. My heart started beating really hard, and I asked Chris what happened, like he would know anything more than I did, even though we were standing together.

There were murmurs from the crowd about a knife and “he’s got a gun.” I’m not sure how to describe it. It was definitely not full on pandemonium from the movies, but the crowd was skittish and I said, “I’m scared. I want to go.”  My instinct was to get down on the ground or stay close to the building, but I felt silly since no one else was doing that.

Someone came on the loudspeaker to announce, “The park is now closed. Please exit to the south side of the park for your safety.” It was scary, but it still felt like…if there was still immediate danger, would someone be calmly speaking on the loudspeaker? Surreal.

We grabbed our bikes. Chris started to put on his red buff, basically a fancy bandana on his head he normally wears under his bike helmet. I’ve given him shit for wearing a red bandana when we live on the blue side of the tracks (and I don’t mean Democratic) a million times, but as we fled City Park, knowing there had been some kind of violence, likely gang related, I snapped at him, “Seriously? Put it away.”

I get bitchy when I’m nervous.

We took off across the park. I rode as fast as I could, knowing Chris could more than keep up with me. Dozens of police cars were headed into the park, sirens blazing, driving across the grass.

It wasn’t until we were five blocks out of the park that we slowed up a bit. I said, “I bet it wasn’t really anything. We’d have heard gunshots if there were any. It was probably just a fight and people got spooked.”

We got home and started refreshing, refreshing, refreshing twitter. Searches for City Park and local tv stations. Drips and drops of information. We were seeing the same things and just reading them off to each other. Shots were fired. A cop was hit. She’s in critical condition. Something about an Anti Gang Violence Rally? The officer was a female. She’s married with two kids. Stepped in to break up a fight. Another site says she’s a single mom of two kids. Then just one kid. Several suspects in custody. No suspects in custody, but many in for questioning.

About where the yellow mark is on the photo above, a police officer named Celena Hollis was shot in the head, and she died that night.

I have so much to say about this. In not much of an order:

  • I was completely useless at work today, refreshing the news and learning the smaller details. I cried as I told someone about it, that it happened roughly 100 yards from where we were standing.
  • I don’t know what caused the two swells of people, but there were definitely two distinct panics with a break in between. Maybe someone pulling a gun, and then actual shots fired? Panicked crowds are scary, and I was about as nervous about the herd as I was about what had spooked them.
  • We didn’t hear the gunshots, which seems crazy for how close we were. Must have been a random acoustics fluke.
  • A local channel, I think 9 news, posted on their facebook page that an officer was shot, and predictably there were soon dozens of comments offering up thoughts and prayers, and then one that went something like, “Your prayers didn’t work, she died. Praying is stupid.” (I’m sooo paraphrasing.) People suck.
  • Another facebook comment was something like, “You won’t catch me in City Park during the day much less at night.” That’s a stupid thing to say. City Park is huge, housing the zoo and the science museum. There’s a running race there almost every weekend. Obama’s helicopter landed there a few weeks ago. I have spent hours and hours in that park and the sketchiest thing I have seen was a guy who was smoking a joint while watching his kids. Sketchy, but not scary. I can think of at least three parks offhand that are 100 times scarier in Denver.
  • I never noticed the segregation at City Park Jazz until someone pointed it out after this incident. Most white people tend to spread out to the South, and most black people tend to hang out closer to the pavilion/stage. I’m just not that observant. I have sat in both spots.
  • They keep asking for witnesses to come forward. Hundreds of people must have seen what happened. Especially if there was a skirmish that preceded the shooting, it would have drawn a lot of eyes. I wish I had seen more and could help.
  • A local reporter tweeted that friends and family of the suspected shooter wore red bandanas into court this morning for the arraignment but were asked to remove them. Not sure how to feel about that.
  • Why does anyone need to bring a gun to Jazz in the Park? You need a gun to protect yourself or to hurt other people. Is there really a need for either at this event? Even if there is, could we get away with a knife? Or some other weapon that’s not going to accidentally kill a cop or any other bystanders?
  • Granted, I was giving side eye to people who couldn’t even follow the no glass rule and bring beer in cans, so I probably don’t have much perspective on the appropriate weapon to carry in this situation.
  • It was weird to see so many inaccuracies in the news. Some reports had the officer married, some single. Some with two kids, some with one. By this morning everyone seemed to agree she was a single mom of one daughter. But some reports had her in plain clothes, some said uniformed. Some said this was a “jazz festival,” which isn’t really right. Some said this was the first in a summer concert series, when it was really the fourth installment this summer. There kept being this weirdly phrased detail that she had been attending an Anti-Gang Violence Rally. But…she wasn’t because we were all at City Park Jazz. There wasn’t also a rally that night. Maybe they meant previously? As of today this detail was dropped from most reports. I have to assume this is normal in the scramble to get information in the hours after an event, but it was still unsettling.

I just…this has rattled me. For a lot of reasons.

I haven’t decided if I’ll be back at the park next Sunday night. On the one hand, if I stay home, then OMG THEY WIN. I don’t want to be intimidated out of my own neighborhood’s park.

On the other hand, that was terrifying. And I can drink beer and pretend to listen to jazz at home. (Seriously, no one is listening to the music. It’s just social people watching.)

On still the third hand, these concerts are likely to be crawling with security for the rest of the summer and might actually be the safest place to be in the city.

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