A day of celebration was marred when eight people were shot and several others injured during a stampede to get out of Miami-Dade’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 nonviolence erupted into mayhem.
The shooting at the park, 6000 NW 32nd Ct., happened about two hours after the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, an event that typically attracts hundreds, even thousands, to celebrate the slain civil rights leader. 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 shots rang out, even as bikers and ATV riders roared past in celebration. Their motto: “Bikes up, Guns down.”
Police evacuated and closed the park after the shootings as investigators combed the area for clues. The festival at the park, where families gather to eat, play and listen to music, has become a staple of the post-MLK parade.
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,” Dandy said. “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,” Kelsey said.
Wilson was 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 — was in critical condition. Police said three teenage girls — Lajada Benson, 14, Nakya-Senat Butler, 15, and Alfanesha Timesages, 17 — were shot and in stable condition. A 30-year-old, whom police identified as Michael Clarke, was also in stable condition.
Police said 11-year-old Ciara Johnson and 13-year-old Keionna Green were grazed and treated at the scene and released to their parents.
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. 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 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.”
Police continued to interview the two men in custody Monday evening, but still hadn’t shared a reason for the violence.
“The nature of the shooting, we don’t have information on that right now,” Miami-Dade Detective Marjorie Eloi said. “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.”