ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Neighbors described a chaotic and terrifying scene. Mayor Lovely Warren lamented a “horrific act of violence.” And police are searching for an unknown number of suspects.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Warren said.
An overnight shooting that left two young people dead and 14 others injured brought further tumult to a city already gripped by civil unrest and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The two people who died — Jaquayla Young and Jarvis Alexander — were 2019 high school graduates. Both were innocent bystanders at a house party that grew out of control, police said. An argument led to shooting, involving multiple guns and more than 40 rounds fired.
East High students were calling teachers and administrators in the early morning hours, relaying traumatic accounts of the mayhem, said Superintendent Shaun Nelms.
"They're hurt," Nelms said, adding: "The people who were impacted (including those injured) were beautiful."
Surviving victims were in their late teens or early 20s. Two also were injured while fleeing gunfire.
Police responded at 12:25 a.m. Saturday to the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, finding multiple wounded and estimates of between 100 and 200 people.
The gathering began as a small invite-only affair, police said. But two other parties in the neighborhood later coalesced at the one location and apparently were joined by people who earlier in the night had attended a vigil for another shooting victim.
“Please keep our city in your prayers,” Warren said. “Keep the families in your prayers, of course all these neighbors … who are all hurting and suffering and crying right now.”
Such gatherings are banned between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. under a mayoral executive order enacted in July. Warren took action then citing large gatherings and shootings with multiple people injured. The city has recorded double the number of multiple-victim shootings so far this year than it did in the entirety of 2019, according to RPD statistics.
Police were not notified of the gathering on Pennsylvania Avenue until 911 calls starting coming in, with callers reporting gunshots and bedlam out their front doors.
“There were kids throwing up, hiding between bushes, bleeding," said Jasmin Lopez, who awoke to the gunfire.
She and John Santiago live a block away. They found two teens hiding in their driveway. Said Santiago: “You could see the fear in (one of the teens') eyes. He was scared.” Then the pair got in a car and drove off. Lopez called 911 and her first two attempts went unanswered.
As police arrived on scene, they radioed for additional officers — and the need for outside agencies — to respond. At one point, a dispatcher asked: “Does anyone know how many more cars we need to the location?” The response came back: “Everybody, please.”
Counselors were made available at city recreation centers on Saturday. East High and University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men, where the teens recently graduated, both plan to open for students to gather on Sunday.
"This is truly a tragedy of epic proportions," acting Police Chief Mark Simmons said in the initial hours after the shooting. "I mean, 16 victims is unheard of, and for our community, who's right now going through so much, to have to be dealt with this tragedy, needlessly, for people who decide to act in a violent manner is unfortunate and shameful.
“We're going to do everything that we can as a department to bring those people involved to justice."
Simmons took over as acting chief just five days ago, after Warren fired La'Ron Singletary over his handling of the in-custody death of Daniel Prude. The 41-year-old Prude suffocated while being restrained by officers during a mental health call back in March. But the details were not made public until this month, sparking nightly protests and straining police-community relations.
Protest organizer Free The People Roc released a statement: "We grieve with the victims and families of this morning’s horrific shooting. It hurts to see our community in such pain. Just as we are coming to grips with one tragedy, we are hit with another."
The group continued, writing: "All of us deserve to live violence-free lives, but that’s impossible when people lack stable housing, fully funded schools, and well-paying jobs. It’s impossible when we invest more in police from the suburbs than the youth in our own neighborhoods. This is a wake up call to radically shift our priorities and invest in the people of this city."
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Rochester, New York, mass shooting that killed 2 'doesn't make sense'