ROCHESTER, NY — Two young adults were killed and 14 people wounded early Saturday in the largest Rochester shooting in memory, an act of violence that occurred at a backyard house party with more than 100 people present.
The violence occurred on Pennsylvania Avenue, at a residence located not far from the Rochester Public Market.
The identities of the two victims, one man and one woman, have not been made public pending notification of next of kin. Acting Police Chief Mark Simmons said both victims were in their late teens or early 20s.
“This is truly a tragedy of epic proportions,,” Simmons said at a 3:45 a.m. news briefing at the scene. “16 victims is unheard of, and for our community, who’s right now going through so much, to have to be dealt with this tragedy, needlessly, for people who decide to act in a violent manner is unfortunate and shameful, and we’re going to do everything that we can as a department to bring those people involved to justice.”
None of the bullet wounds suffered by the 14 other shooting victims are believed to be life-threatening, the police chief said. The wounded persons were taken to Strong Memorial Hospital and to Rochester General Hospital.
Two others suffered injuries while fleeing the gunfire, the Rochester Police Department Major Crimes Unit tweeted just before 5 a.m.
Significant numbers of Rochester police officers responded to the scene along Pennsylvania Avenue following the shootings reported at about 12:25 a.m. ET.
No suspects are in custody, Simmons said. No motive for the violence is known. He said it was too early to know if multiple shooters were responsible.
When police arrived, they saw scores of people running from the scene and found multiple people who had been shot. Simmons described it as “a very chaotic scene.”
Authorities did not know the house party was occurring until they responded to the 911 call about the shootings, Simmons said.
“This is yet another tragedy where individuals are having these illegal and unsanctioned house parties taking place in these properties,” the chief said. He said these are unsafe because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and when “you add in alcohol and violence … it just becomes a recipe for disaster.”
Saturday’s mass shooting occurred in a month when tensions between Rochester police and the city’s Black community have been high because of the release Sept. 2 of police bodycam video showing the suffocation of Chicago resident Daniel Prude while being restrained by city police during a mental-health call response last March.
Rochester has been the scene of daily Black Lives Matter protests since Sept. 2. Just five days ago, Simmons took over as acting police chief after Mayor Lovely Warren fired Chief La’Ron Singletary over his handling of the Prude case, which was not made public for five months. Numerous other top police officials are leaving their posts following fallout from the Prude case.
Asked about a week that included taking the reins of the police department, guiding the police department’s handling of Daniel Prude protests and now investigating a mass shooting, Simmons turned his answer toward the night’s tragic losses.
“This is not a moment for self-reflection,” he said. “This is a moment that I’m asking the community to pray for the victims and their families. A lot of people are hurting right now. A lot of people are seeking answers. And the police department are going to do what we can to help bring some comfort and solve this crime for the families.”
Before dawn, Warren issued a statement:
“I’ve been briefed by Acting Police Chief Simmons on the shooting event which occurred on Pennsylvania Avenue in the City of Rochester. Our Pathways to Peace Team is on the ground and working with the victims and their families. I’m asking the community for prayers and support for all involved.
“This tragic act of violence has impacted many people’s lives and families. I’m begging everyone to remain calm and exercise deep restraint as RPD investigates what happened here and seeks those responsible. As soon as additional information is available, the police department will provide updates on this matter. Please keep our city in your continual prayers.”
Shootings on the rise during coronavirus outbreak
In 2020, shootings and homicides have risen in many U.S. communities, including Rochester. Authorities have pointed to the coronavirus outbreak as a significant factor.
The pandemic has prompted a massive slowing of economic activity at the same time the need for social distancing has shut down many popular activities, leaving young adults in poorer neighborhoods bored and frustrated.
The extent of Saturday morning’s violence is considered a mass shooting, defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot, fatally or otherwise.
The house party incident dwarfs any mass shooting seen in Rochester in 2015, when Rochester led New York state in such incidents. That year, six people died and 18 people were wounded in a total of four mass shootings.
Among the mass shootings that year was the Boys and Girls Club shooting, in which three people were killed and four wounded on Aug. 19, 2015.
Rochester police that year blamed the availability of guns, which can quickly escalate disputes, and gang activity as playing a role in the increase in mass shootings.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there had been 454 mass shootings across America in 2020 as of Friday. Now, there have been at least 455.
Follow Will Cleveland on Twitter: @WillCleveland13.