A July 4 shooting at Cincinnati's Smale Riverfront Park became deadly, with two teenagers dying and others injured.
Cincinnati Police chief Eliott Isaac said that 16-year-old Milo Watson had died on the scene, while 19-year-old Dexter Wright Jr. died shortly after being hospitalized.
Isaac said Monday that Watson and Wright likely had encountered each other before the incident at Smale Park near the Banks.
"The information we've been able to determine right now is Mr. Watson and Mr. Wright, we believe, were engaged in a verbal altercation that resulted in the two exchanging gunfire," Isaac said. "The other victims that I'd mentioned were caught in the crossfire, and the investigation is still ongoing.
Watson and Wright both suffered from single gunshot wounds to their upper torsos, Isaac said during a briefing on Monday. Watch Isaac discuss the Smale Riverfront Park shooting during a July 5 briefing on Cincinnati Police Department's Facebook page.
In addition, three bystanders were wounded during the crossfire, Isaac said. A 17-year-old female with a gunshot wound in her back is in critical condition at UC Medical Center. A second 16-year-old female and a 15-year-old male both suffered gunshot wounds to their arms and were taken to UC Medical Center for treatment.
Isaac said that others may have been involved in the shooting, but police are not actively looking for suspects by name at this time. He does not believe that it was a random shooting.
Police have not recovered any firearms used in the shooting thus far.
About 500 people were at Smale Park on Sunday to watch fireworks and celebrate Independence Day, officers said. Police had been there to clear the park before its 11 p.m. closing time when 911 calls about the shooting began. At 10:48 p.m. Sunday, officers responded to a report of multiple shooting victims at 1 West Mehring Way at Smale Riverfront Park, with Cincinnati Fire Department following shortly after.
Isaac said about 78 officers had responded to the incident Sunday.
The park was closed through Monday morning as police investigated.
WKRC-TV reported that a bystander had recorded video of the chaotic aftermath of the Smale Park shooting, including police on the scene and firefighters giving CPR to victims. The anonymous 18-year-old Cincinnati man said that he was trying to get out of the area, WKRC reported.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley issued the following statement on Monday about the shooting:
What happened at Smale park last night is unacceptable. While both shooters may be dead and our police are still investigating the incident, three innocent bystanders were shot because of the egregious actions of a few. This is tragic and made even more sad by the fact that the shootings occurred in a group of primarily teenagers. The victims remain in my prayers.
Our cops have been diligent about patrolling in parks that attract groups of teenagers—and will continue to do so—but this issue is much deeper and cannot alone be solved with crime fighting strategies. I have asked the City Manager and Chief to convene the Manager's Advisory Group to examine causes, evaluate resources and ultimately create a plan to address youth violence in our City. These kids are turning to violence to solve their problems, to retaliate when they feel they have been wronged. This is rooted in problems faced by youth long before they engage in such acts. We need help from the community.
Cincinnati City Council member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney also emailed a statement Monday:
Everyone is asking why, and we know there is not just one answer, there are several: Too many guns are being dropped off in our communities and then falling into the hands of our young people. The wealth gap is getting wider and those struggling economically are having an even harder time. And we are not doing enough for our young people: They need jobs, recreational activities, education, skills training, mentoring, and conflict resolution training.
There is no easy fix. All of us – City Council and our communities – must continue to work together, and failure is not our option. Neither is giving up.
In the wake of the shootings, Brian Garry, chair of community organization Neighborhoods United, called for Cincinnati to implement new ways to curb gun violence.
"Neighborhoods United would like to offer our deepest sympathies to the families of the Banks Victims. Every time a person’s live [sic] is taken on our streets, it hurts our hearts as if it were our own family," Garry said in an emailed statement. "As we are One Cincinnati, part of our City dies with each death. We must Unite against gun violence."
"We encourage the City of Cincinnati to adopt the 45 page Community Plan to Reduce Gun Violence," Garry continued, referring to its plan for neighborhood stability and safety. "While the City is implementing some programs they could do so much more to reduce gun violence and save lives."
Isaac announced his upcoming retirement in late June. In 2019, he told Cincinnati City Council that Cincinnati shootings and overall crime were at much lower levels than they had been in previous years.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that gun violence during 2020 spiked in Cincinnati, but for the first half of 2021, the number of homicides were lower than in previous years.
Throughout Ohio, gun sales had increased in 2020, largely as opposition to COVID-19 pandemic health regulations. And Ohio is one of the worst states in the nation for gun safety, says the Giffords Law Center.