'We as a community must do better': Teenage girl dead, five others wounded in shooting at Ohio park, police say

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — A teenage girl is dead, five other young people were wounded and two others injured in a shooting late Saturday at a music party promoted on social media at the amphitheater in Bicentennial Park in downtown Columbus.

Police and Columbus Fire medics were called just before midnight Saturday and found a chaotic scene with several people wounded.

Olivia Kurtz, 16, was transported to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 1:06 a.m., police said.

Three females and two males, ranging in age from 15-19, were wounded. The shooting victims were transported to local hospitals, where they were all expected to recover from their injuries, police said.

Two other young people received hospital treatment for non-gunshot injuries as they were attempting to flee from the area.

Dozens of small cones marking bullet casings and evidence covered the stage, steps and the surrounding grass areas at the amphitheater Sunday morning. A police K9 dog also was at the scene scouring for evidence.

Police said there was no scheduled event at the park, but that the shooting occurred during "a private event that was promoted on social media."

The amphitheater at Bicentennial Park along the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus is marked by a red tag in this Google satellite view.
The amphitheater at Bicentennial Park along the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus is marked by a red tag in this Google satellite view.

"It appears that somebody organized over social media a large party/concert at the amphitheater there," Deputy Police Chief Tim Becker said.

The event was after park hours, there was no permit issued and not authorized or sanctioned by the city Recreation and Parks Department, Becker said.

The organizers "threw something together, potentially even charging admission to get in and concessions and a DJ is what we're being told," he said. "Upon our arrival, all of those people had fled with their equipment. They very quickly loaded up and took off."

Witnesses gave differing accounts of where the shooting erupted and whether people in the crowd returned fire, and investigators don't know how many shooters there were, Becker said.

Numerous red party cups could be seen Sunday scattered on the steps around the amphitheater, apparently abandoned by people fleeing the gunfire. At least one park bench in front of the amphitheater appeared to have been knocked over.

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Neighbors recall loud party, call police

Rick Richards, who lives near Bicentennial Park, said he and his wife started hearing music playing at the amphitheater around 9:30 p.m.

"The music was getting louder and louder," Richards said, and by about 10 p.m. he and his wife and some neighbors began calling the Columbus police nonemergency line about the noise.

Crime scene tape surrounds Bicentennial Park in downtown Columbus on Sunday morning, May 23, 2021, as Columbus police investigate a shooting late Saturday night that killed one and injured several others. The small yellow cones all over the stage and surrounding grass areas mark bullet casings and other evidence.
Crime scene tape surrounds Bicentennial Park in downtown Columbus on Sunday morning, May 23, 2021, as Columbus police investigate a shooting late Saturday night that killed one and injured several others. The small yellow cones all over the stage and surrounding grass areas mark bullet casings and other evidence.

"No one's coming," Richards said of police. "The response early on is there's a shift change and it's not a priority call," he said, but the dispatcher did say they were putting it on the call list.

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Unable to sleep because of the vibrating bass from the music, Richard said he went onto his condo balcony and looked over at the large crowd of people at the park. He said he was on the balcony for only a few minutes and considering calling the police again when gunfire broke out.

"All at once I hear, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop," Richards recalled. "People just started scattering like crazy."

This time, Richards called the 911 emergency line to report a shooting. A dispatcher answered right away, he said, and while he was still on the phone with the dispatcher, a wave of police and medics were responding at the park.

Richards said he believes police might have broken up the park event and the shooting might not have occurred if they had responded sooner to the non-emergency calls about crowd and noise.

"Had someone (from police) come at 10 a.m., instead of letting it go on past 10:30 or 11 o'clock, they could have shut it down with one or two cruisers," he said.

"Disappointment doesn't speak well when someone is dead," Richards said of the police response. "I don't know what the priorities are. ... I think this was absolutely avoidable."

'Another life lost due to gun violence'

Columbus police officials plan on discussing their response to the complaints on Monday, Becker said.

"Normally it's very busy around that time at the establishments that have lots of people," Becker said. "Normally, (officers) would swing by and check anywhere that is just on routine patrol, but there's not a lot of opportunity to do that on a Saturday at midnight."

In a statement, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said the community must better protect its children from violence.

"I am saddened and angered by the tragic and senseless death of a young girl and another life lost due to gun violence," Ginther said. "While police are still working to understand what occurred, it is clear that we as a community must do better to protect our children. As a father, my heart aches, and I offer my sincere condolences to the family. Anyone who has information should please call the police."

Brian Steel, vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, said the Bicentennial Park shooting is "is just another example of the complete chaos plaguing our city. At some point, we must all come together, say enough is enough and demand law and order is reestablished. Our hearts go out for the victims and families impacted by the violence.”

"There has to be a lot of video evidence that is on phones right now," Becker said. "We need parents to be talking to their children, go through their phones. It is the parent's right to do that — they are the parent — and bringing that evidence forward so other kids aren't subject to being shot, killed and traumatized."

Many of the young people shouldn't have been out at that hour at all, Becker said. "It's just a tough challenge," he said. "It really is a parenting challenge. At some point, it's not necessarily the police's responsibility, but it's a parent's responsibility to know where their kids are and have consequences for violating those curfews."

Contributing: Bill Bush and Bethany Bruner, Columbus Dispatch

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus, Ohio, shooting: 1 dead, five others wounded at park event

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