Twenty-year-old Jasmine Harris was killed and six others were injured late Saturday in what police suspect was a gang-related shooting in downtown Omaha.
The victims ranged in age from their teens to late 20s, said Tom Shaffer, acting deputy chief of the Omaha Police Department’s uniform patrol bureau. The youngest was 15.
The other gunshot victims were Dewayne Staley Jr., 28, Makye Thomas, 15, Kristen Prater, 16, Velia Vasquez, 18, and Robert McGhee-Gould, 20. Gregory Austin, 19, was also injured, but police said his injuries were possibly not gun-related.
Harris’ family said she had gone downtown to attend Taste of Omaha with a friend.
“We’re devastated. There’s really no word to describe having somebody take a 20-year-old from you,” said Kizzetta Holmes of Omaha, Harris’ aunt.
Holmes said that her niece was not a gang member and that the bullet struck her in the back.
Harris graduated from Benson High School and was an aspiring cosmetologist, Holmes said.
Two of the people who were injured posted about the shooting on Facebook on Sunday.
Velia Vasquez thanked her “sis” for not leaving her side and thanked people for their prayers and support.
“Bullet Fractured My Pelvic Bone!” Vasquez wrote. “Blessed To Be Alive, It Could Have Been Worse.”
Gregory Austin sent his prayers to Jasmine’s family.
“What is the world coming to? We can’t enjoy living our lives peacefully with friends and family in a public place WITHOUT the fear of being hurt,” wrote Austin, who also goes by Gregory Evans.
To the Harris family, he wrote, “I can only imagine what y’all going through. As being a victim of this terrible crime it’s so ridiculous and it hurts me to see other people pain from this violences (sic) which needs to stop”
Reached at his home in Buffalo, New York, Staley’s father, Dewayne Staley Sr., said his son was shot in the leg as he got out of his car.
“He’s doing OK; we’re waiting for the swelling to go down and hope they don’t have to operate,” Staley said. He said his son knew very little about what happened.
“He said he got out of his car and was walking toward a friend when he heard gunshots,” Staley said. “Everybody started running, and he just happened to get shot in the leg.”
The shooting occurred just before midnight near 11th and Farnam Streets, which is along the south side of the Gene Leahy Mall. It’s one of the the streetside entrances to two long slides, which are a popular draw for families.
That general area has been the scene of after-hours trouble before.
In 2012, a 19-year-old was shot and killed after two gangs squared off in a nearby parking lot on the first weekend of the College World Series. DeAnthony Bryant died, and Tavar A. Hudson, now 28, was sentenced to prison for second-degree murder in the slaying.
Shaffer said the shooting at 11th and Farnam Streets appears to be gang-related and may be linked to gun violence last month. No arrests had been made as of Sunday afternoon.
After the shooting, police blocked off access to several streets in the area and told people parked along those streets that they would need to come back later for their vehicles.
About 7 a.m. Sunday, police and crime investigators were still at the scene, and one lane of Farnam was blocked off. Evidence markers were mixed with broken glass that looked like vehicle-window glass. People who had been parked near the scene were arriving to remove their cars.
The area of the shooting had returned to normal later Sunday morning.
All lanes of Farnam had reopened and more people had picked up their cars. There were people out walking their dogs and families arriving to seek the quiet green space that the sunken mall provides from the noise at street level. The Leahy Mall is a popular site for professional photography, and one family was getting its portrait taken just a few feet from the scene of the previous night’s violence.
As all of this occurred, there remained scant indication of what had happened the night before.
A wobbling trail of blood led from the street to the sidewalk. Pedestrians and joggers strolled past, some pausing to puzzle over the blood and others steering away from it.
Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Capt. Ken Kanger, head of the department’s gang unit, came to the scene after the shooting.
Police stressed the seriousness of the shooting, especially because it occurred in a high-traffic area.
Several people interviewed said they didn’t hear the shots because of fireworks, or mistook the gunfire for fireworks.
Dr. Emad Rahim, a professor at Bellevue University who lives in Syracuse, New York, was taking pictures of the nearby Hilton Omaha when he heard the shots. He said he initially thought the popping sounds were just more fireworks from Taste of Omaha, and didn’t realize there had been a shooting a few blocks away until he turned on the news later that night.
Rahim said the shooting doesn’t change his perception of Omaha’s safety.
“I come to Omaha three times a year and never had any issues,” Rahim said. “Police were there in minutes helping people out and I guarantee there were a lot of bystanders helping also. That says a lot about your city.”
In a Facebook post Sunday, the Omaha Downtown Improvement District Association, offered its sympathy to those affected and said the group would work with others on safety.
“Our hearts go out to the families of everyone involved,” the organization posted. “This kind of mindless violence is becoming more and more prevalent in our society and it’s time for us come together as a community to seek solutions.”
The group said it would host a public meeting this week to discuss solutions such as an underage curfew and improved lighting and security in public spaces. The time and location has not been set, but the public, Omaha police and city officials will be invited.