Shooting at Arkansas auto show leaves 1 dead, 27 injured

DUMAS, Ark. – A community event and car show in a small farming community in Arkansas became a scene of horror on Saturday night, as two people engaged in a gunfight and showered the crowd with bullets, killing a bystander and injuring 27 other people, including six children.

Survivors said the violence erupted with surprising suddenness. “You went from laughing and talking and eating and everything to a random shot,” said Candace McKinzie, 26, one of the event organizers. Ms McKinzie said she was eating a funnel cake at a stand when she heard a series of pops and quickly saw a rush of people running and tripping over each other, including “old people falling, trying to hide under the tables”.

Saturday’s incident was the largest mass shooting event in the United States in 2022 so far, according to Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit data collection organization. It occurred during a particularly bloody weekend in the region: in Dallas, 10 people were injured and shot in the head during a shooting Saturday night, according to a local television channel.

Around the same time in Austin, four people were injured during a shooting near the city’s Sixth Street entertainment district on the final weekend of South by Southwest, Austin’s famed arts and technology conference.

The shooting in Dumas, a town of 4,000 about 90 miles southeast of Little Rock, ruined a beloved local event called Hood-Nic, for a neighborhood picnic, hosted by a foundation that donates tutoring, backpacks and scholarships to first-time students, according to its website. The big outdoor party had been canceled for two consecutive years due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Saturday’s event was meant to represent a much-needed return to normalcy.

At a Sunday afternoon news conference, police did not give details about why the suspects started fighting or their relationship to each other. Arkansas State Police Superintendent Col. Bill Bryant said both men remain at large.

“It’s shocking,” he said, adding, “You don’t expect this from a small town in Arkansas.”

Dumas is the largest city in Desha County, a strip of flat, fertile farmland along the Mississippi River in Arkansas’ Delta region. According to US Census figures, per capita income in the county is just over $19,000, with nearly 23% of county residents living in poverty.

The Hood-Nic event took place in the parking lot of a branch of Fred’s, a regional chain of discount stores that declared bankruptcy and closed all of its stores in 2019.

Detrich Elliott, 42, owner of an online radio station in Little Rock, hosted the event and said things went well for much of the day with no signs of strain. The sun was shining. A band played R&B music. Rappers performed on stage, preachers called for prayers and politicians demanded votes. People set up lawn chairs in front of the stage, and people of all ages, including many children, moved around amid food trucks and custom cars that were to be the subject of a popularity contest.

Sometime after 6 p.m., those who had gathered near the stage were asked to make room for the parade of cars. It was around this time that Mr. Elliott, who was on stage, heard gunshots to his right, coming from behind some food trucks.

He heard what sounded like 12 or 15 shots, he said, but couldn’t make out the shooters. “I saw the aftereffects of people lying on the ground,” Mr Elliott said. “I saw a guy lying on the ground and people helping him into a car – possibly a police car.”

Voices rang out, he said, saying, “There is someone out there who is hurt. There’s someone here who’s hurt.

Ms McKinzie, one of the organisers, said she dropped her food, ran to a table and heard her boyfriend, Josh Lane, shouting: ‘Get down!’

Her brother flipped a stand to the side and shielded the children behind, she said.

His cousin and sister were shot amid the chaos. Both underwent surgery on Sunday and are expected to make a full recovery, she said.

Jessica Bass, a resident of Dumas, said she believed she saw the start of the altercation, as one man punched another. The man who was punched, she said, turned around and pulled out a handgun and shot the other man in the chest. His account has not been verified by law enforcement.

Ms Bass said a friend who was with her, Cory Everett, was shot twice in the leg, and she told how she drove him to Delta Memorial Hospital just down the road. There were still bloodstains in the back seat of Ms Bass’ car on Sunday as she spoke to a reporter. She said she didn’t know Mr. Everett’s condition.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock treated six patients under the age of 18 with gunshot wounds, said Hilary DeMillo, a hospital spokeswoman. Most of the patients were treated and discharged by late Sunday morning. Kris Love-Keys, director of development for the Hood-Nic Foundation, a local nonprofit that organized the car show, said the youngest child injured was 1, the oldest 11.

Col. Bryant identified the deceased victim as Cameron Shaffer, 23, of Jackson, Ark. He said local police arrested a person who left the scene and “fits the general description” of one of the suspects. But the arrest, Col. Bryant said, was based on charges unrelated to the shooting.

Mr. Lane, an officer with the Pine Bluff, Ark., police department who was in Dumas to spend time with his family, said he performed chest compressions on a man who had been shot in the chest. armpit and stomach. He was unsure of the man’s condition on Sunday.

Stephanie Fisher, who grew up in Dumas but now lives in Texas, returns to Dumas every year for the Hood-Nic event. She was there with her family on Saturday night when filming began. His grandson, Frankie Spicer, 11, was shot in the right hand; his half-sister, Aaliyah Spicer, was shot in the left calf. The children’s other grandmother was shot in the stomach.

All three were rushed to Delta Memorial Hospital in Dumas and then transferred to medical centers in Little Rock.

The Hood-Nic group, which promotes non-violence, said on Facebook that it was “sorry and in shock” at the shooting. Wallace McGehee, the auto show organizer, told the KARK television channel Saturday night during filming he was running and trying to “get the kids out of the way”.

“When the bullets start flying, they don’t have a name on them,” he said.

During a Sunday afternoon prayer vigil, Isierene Spinks, the Dumas Elementary School nurse, said she went to Delta Memorial Hospital after receiving a phone call saying the hospital was understaffed. She said she helped treat 10 to 12 people, four of whom she knew personally.

“We are all so devastated,” she said.

Vimal Patel and Giulia Heyward contributed report.

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