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2 Philly officers shot, wounded at July 4th fireworks celebration

Videos show a stampede of people fleeing a fireworks show

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By Justine McDaniel, Chris Palmer, Jason Nark and Kristen A. Graham
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Two police officers were shot and injured in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum while on duty at the city’s Independence Day celebrations on Monday night. The incident caused stampedes of people watching fireworks on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to flee what they believed was an active shooting.

Investigators were still seeking to determine where the shots were fired from, how many were fired, and whether the shots were intentionally fired toward police or the officers were struck by stray gunfire. Police said no one else was shot.

No arrests had been made and no suspects were in custody as of 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a news conference outside Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Each officer suffered a graze wound, one to the forehead — the bullet was found in the police officer’s hat — and one to the shoulder. Both were treated and released from Jefferson within about two hours after the shooting, which happened just after 9:47 p.m.

“We’re all just extremely grateful that this wasn’t worse than what it was,” Outlaw said.

It was a harsh end to a day and night of celebration on the Parkway, where Jason Derulo had headlined the Wawa Welcome America Party on the Parkway and revelers had filled the area for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The officers were standing in front of the Art Museum — between the steps and Eakins Oval — when they were shot, according to law enforcement sources, and were standing relatively close to one another. They did not hear any shots, Outlaw said.

The fireworks show had just begun above the Art Museum. Reports of a shooting spread through the crowd, and people began running down the Parkway, trying to flee. Many others were uncertain, and people milled about before a second stampede began.

With fireworks still blooming in the sky above, panic and chaos overtook many on the street. People ran toward Center City, some jumping over metal barricades. Some shouted that there was a shooting, causing those who heard to join the exodus.

Hundreds sprinted off the parkway in a current, running for blocks in an effort to flee, videos posted to social media showed.

“We all just turn around and look and see people are running toward us,” said Regina Hicks, 33, who was standing near the stage with her nephew to watch the fireworks. “They told us that they were shooting.”

A police officer told people to run, recounted Irem Ozdemir, 24, an au pair from Turkey living in Haddonfield. She and her friends weren’t sure what was happening at first.

“We saw people running, screaming, saying, ‘Get out of here, get out of here.’ It was horrible. We saw people looking for their kids, screaming, ‘Where is my kid?’ Some people were having panic attacks. We ran,” said Ozdemir.

The terror among spectators happened as the country celebrated Independence Day on edge, after a mass shooting at a suburban Chicago parade on Monday morning. Six people were killed and dozens injured when a gunman opened fire there.

Police presence had been robust on the Parkway on Monday. Monday had been “an otherwise really great day,” said Outlaw. She spoke at the news conference with Mayor Jim Kenney, who said it had been a “laid-back, chill day.”

“The weather was beautiful, the concert was beautiful, but we live in America and we have the Second Amendment and we have the Supreme Court of the United States telling everybody they can carry a gun wherever they want,” Kenney said when asked by a reporter about people being afraid to come to Philadelphia for events, referring to last week’s Supreme Court decision that struck down a New York law that limited the public carry of guns.

“We have to come to grips with what this country is about right now. We had a beautiful day out there today except for some nitwit … who has a gun and probably shouldn’t have had it.”

Kenney said he worries every time there is an event in the city.

“So I don’t enjoy the Fourth of July, I don’t enjoy the Democratic National Convention, I didn’t enjoy the NFL draft — I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time,” Kenney continued. “So I’ll be happy when I’m not here– when I’m not mayor and I can enjoy some stuff.”

“You’re looking forward to not being mayor?” a reporter asked.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact,” Kenney replied.

Both officers shot near the Parkway on Monday night were treated at Jefferson and released, Outlaw said.

One of the officers was a Philadelphia Police Department highway patrol officer. The man, 36, suffered a graze wound to his forehead. The bullet lodged in his cap, a photo provided to The Inquirer showed.

“It is miraculous, the fact that the round stopped in his hat,” Outlaw said. “It initially went up inside, hit his forehead, and then the round stopped in his hat.”

The other officer hit by gunfire was assigned to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad, which works with Philadelphia police at events like the one on the Parkway. The man, 44, sustained a graze wound on his shoulder, Outlaw said.

One officer was discharged from Jefferson at midnight. He waved from the window of a police car as he rode away, a bandage over his forehead.

As the chaos unfolded around 10 p.m., police officers told people to leave and canvassed certain areas as spectators fled. Soon after, a large police presence surrounded the Park Towne Place apartment complex, four high-rise towers at 22nd and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where residents were locked down due to “police activity,” the property manager said in an email to tenants.

“At this time, we have been informed that there is police activity on-site, throughout the community,” Park Towne Place general manager Scott Seeley wrote in an email to residents around 11 p.m. “At this time, we have very little information and ask you to please stay calm while authorities handle the situation.”

A steady stream of people was still leaving the Parkway, walking toward Center City, an hour after the incident began. The red-white-and-blue lights on the Ferris wheel were still spinning.

By 11, the area had mostly cleared except for police officers, paramedics, and people cleaning up, the hum of helicopters and occasional burst of fireworks still punctuating the night.

It left the bystanders shaken.

“I’ve never been in a situation like that — it was really bad,” said Ozdemir. “My friends and I were saying we should have just stayed home. We talked about how we don’t want to go anywhere crowded again.”

(Staff writers Ximena Conde and Diane Mastrull contributed to this article.)

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