EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KRON) — Dozens of children were playing in a neighborhood park Tuesday when a gun battle broke out between two groups of men.
Children ran for their lives through Jack Farrell Park, screaming for their parents, as 33 shots were fired at 6:02 p.m., Police Chief Jeff Liu said.
Four victims — all adults — were shot, and one man was killed.
There were at least 60 children playing in the park at the time of the quadruple shooting, Liu told reporters at Wednesday’s press conference.
Pastor Paul Bains said the park shooters’ actions were an “egregious act on the sanctity of life.”
“There is a street code that’s out there. You even broke the street code by shooting where kids were. Kids were running, saying ‘mommy help me.’ This is totally unacceptable,” Bains said.
The gunfire activated the East Palo Alto Police Department’s ShotSpotter alert system and officers rushed to the scene.
Police found 34-year-old Ralph Fields Jr. still breathing and suffering from fatal gunshots wounds in the park.
Fields is a cousin of Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams. Fields died before he made it to a hospital in an ambulance. Adams grew up in East Palo Alto and visited Jack Farrell Park two months ago to donate outdoor fitness equipment.
Two more shooting victims fled to a nearby firehouse for help from firefighter paramedics. A fourth victim ran into a house on Fordham Street. The three men are expected to survive, Liu said.
The gunmen are still at-large, the police chief said Wednesday.
A girl was recording a video of herself playing a game of tag with other kids in the park when the gun battle broke out.
The girl ran across a softball field with her cellphone video still rolling.
A flurry of gunshots can be heard in the background as the girl shouts, “Help me!”
A witness who asked to remain anonymous told KRON4, “That was my niece recording with some of my other nieces and nephews. She ran towards us at the softball field. Then the bullets came flying towards the softball field and bleachers where we were with all of our other kids.”
A second witness said he had taken children to the park for softball practice.
“While we were coaching and cheering for the kids we heard gunshots. Our first reaction was to duck. But so many of our kids were scattered around the field and the playground that some of us had to get up and run towards the gunfire to find them. One of the men involved in the shooting ran towards the baseball field as he was being shot at and bullets were flying in our direction hitting the bleachers we were ducking under with our kids. We’re so very fortunate that none of us were seriously injured. One of my cousins was grazed by a bullet in the back of the head but he’s okay,” the second witness told KRON4.
Mayor Ruben Abrica said, “All of the people who were there, young children, were traumatized by this. We will get through this. We will not tolerate this kind of violence.”
The police chief said none of the children in the park were physically injured, but “mentally, that’s a different story,” he added.
Police are still working to determine a motive.
“At this point in the investigation, we believe this was a targeted attack and not a random act of violence,” Liu said.
The second witness told KRON4, “Our family has been here since the late 60’s and early 70’s and we lived through that era of East Palo Alto being murder capital, but never in our lives did we ever think our kids would have to experience this.”
East Palo Alto’s mayor and police chief said the city has come a long way since the 1990’s. The city gained a reputation of being the U.S. “murder capital” in 1992, and was the nation’s leader in per capita murders that year with 42 for a population of just 24,000.
Police said today they have a much better relationship with the communities they serve.
“People didn’t want to come here before. We have one murder this year, as opposed to 42 in one year. We have grown up, the community does speak up on crimes. The mindset has changed in our community,” Bains said.
Liu is urging anyone with information about Tuesday’s park shooting to call police Cmdr. Angel Sanchez at 650-853-3154, or email anonymous tips to email@example.com
Many of the children who were playing in the park attend schools in the Ravenswood City School District.
District superintendent Gina Sudaria wrote on Instagram, “Families and children practicing softball and playing on the playground structures found themselves caught in the crossfires. We are shocked and saddened by the events that transpired tonight at Jack Farrel Park. While we do not have control over these events, we can focus on what we do have control over.”
Schools are offering counseling services for all families impacted by the shooting.
“Ravenswood City Schools will be a SAFE and welcoming place for students to come and receive the supports they need,” the superintendent wrote.
The City of East Palo Alto is holding a special City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss the Jack Farrell Park shooting incident with the community.