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TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — Police say a gang shootout leaves 17 hit, with five more hurt at the “Art All Night” festival.
Investigators say fistfights led to gunshots in a handful of locations around the historic Roebling Wire Works in Trenton.
At around 2:45 a.m. Sunday, police began receiving reports of a shooting at the Roebling Wire Works Building on the 600 block of South Clinton Avenue.
Authorities just revealed they do believe the shooting of 17 people is related to gang members having some sort of dispute at the art festival. Authorities also updated Eyewitness News saying of the 17 people shot only one remains in critical condition, that person is believed to be one of the suspected shooters.
More 1,000 people attended the 12th annual festival that brings together art and music.
Authorities confirm at least one of the victims was a 13-year-old who was initially in critical condition, has now been updated to stable.
“What we have learned at this point is that, prior to the shooting there was numerous physical altercations,” said Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri.
Investigators say just before the shooting, Trenton police told organizers the event had gotten out of control and it needed to be shut down.
“The Trenton Police Department began dispersing individuals, those individuals however continued to loiter and additional fights broke out, then the shooting occurred,” said Onofri.
One of the suspected shooters was killed in the gunfire. That alleged shooter authorities say was Tahaij Wells who had just been paroled for a homicide related charge.
Another suspect is in critical condition and a third, 23-year-old Amir “Mir” Armstrong is now in police custody. He’s been charged with unlawful possession of a handgun.
Authorities now believe they know what sparked this terrifying shooting.
“The shooting appears to be related to several neighborhood gangs here in the city of Trenton, having a dispute,” said Onofri.
The event was intended to be an arts festival to bring the community together, but has now become a crime scene.
“I was inside, looking at the art galleries and I just got shot. Look at my leg, all messed up,” said Irvin Higginbotham. “I got shot four times — here, here, and in the thigh.”
“I had a walkie-talkie and said, ‘All hell just broke loose here,'” said Bruce Toth, who has been curating the free, public art event for the past 12 years and says he was 20 feet away from the gunfire. “I just heard gunshots and everybody yelling, ‘Get down, get down, get down!’ Everybody dove under the stage.”
Off-duty police officers and other security presence inside the venue returned fire, which officials say is also a part of their ongoing investigation.
Multiple weapons were recovered.
Multiple witnesses explained that the shooting broke out in front of a community mural by the non-partisan Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America table.
The mural reads: “Imagine a world free of gun violence. What do you see?”
Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson says it’s a stark contrast to past events, which have gone off without a hitch.
“We have historically brought in upward of collectively 10,000 people with no problems and this year, people came and obviously had other intentions that made it now really disruptive and unfortunate event,” Jackson said.
Organizers say it’s unclear if the festival will continue in future years.
“We’re very shocked. We’re deeply saddened. Our hearts ache and our eyes are blurry but our dedication and resolve to building a better Trenton through community, creativity and inspiration will never fade. Not tonight, not ever,” Arts All Night festival officials said.
“It’s sad. It was just such a way to bring everybody together and it’s just ruined. We put our heart and soul into this,” said volunteer Paula Lepone.
The Arts All Night Festival kicked off Saturday at 3 p.m. and was scheduled to run until 3 p.m. Sunday, but the remaining events have been canceled.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials say a carjacking occurred shortly after the mass shooting and are investigating whether or not it is related.
“The epidemic of gun violence has struck once again, this time close to home,” said Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton.
The Diocese of Trenton expressed condolences and sorrow over Sunday morning’s tragedy.
“Once again, we fall to our knees to beg the Almighty to help us end these senseless assaults on innocent life in our communities. We pray for the injured and their families, for comfort and healing. We pray in thanksgiving for the first responders and emergency workers. And we pray for our community here in Trenton that God’s peace and our love for one another might prevail,” Bishop O’Connell said.
Onofri explained in a press conference that officials will consult local pastors regarding the situation.
An investigation is ongoing.