1 dead, 8 wounded in Pa. community center shooting
State police believe the shooting inside the Indiana building was isolated to attendees inside and not a larger, community threat
INDIANA, Pa. — One person was killed and eight were wounded in a shooting during a private party at a Pennsylvania community center early Sunday, authorities said.
State police in Indiana County said troopers, local officers and emergency services responded at 12:35 a.m. Sunday to the shooting at the Chevy Chase Community Center in White Township, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh.
Nine people between the ages of 18 and 23 were shot, including a 22-year-old Pittsburgh man who died at the scene, police said. Lt. Col. George Bivens said investigators believe more than one shooter was involved but declined to say how many there were.
“Dozens of gunshots were fired within the confines of the building,” said Bivens, acknowledging later that “It may well be that we had a gunfight inside this building.” Many fired shell casings and “multiple firearms” had been recovered, along with other evidence such as clothing and cellphones, he said.
Bivens said, however, that officials believe events were “isolated to the attendees at that party” and did not believe the threat was directed at the community at large.
Bivens said police were originally called about midnight about excessive noise coming from the building, and patrol officers were assured that the noise would be turned down. A state police mounted unit was sent to monitor the situation and for crowd control if needed.
Upon arrival, mounted unit members heard gunshots inside, called for backup, and then heard more gunshots and saw people fleeing from doors and windows. Some began to aid to injured people “collapsing outside the building,” and others went inside and found more victims, Bivens said. No state police or horses were injured, he said.
Bivens said more than 150 people were believed to be present at the time of the shooting, and the building wasn’t particularly large and would have been “very full” at the time. When the shooting began, those inside “exited that building in any way possible,” he said.
“You can imagine the chaos that would ensue from a number of gunshots in a relatively confined space,” he said. “People dove through windows, people ran through doors, ran through porch railings, trying to get away from that scene.”
An 18-year-old man from Chicago was critically injured, and an 18-year-old man from Florida was also among the victims. The others who were shot were all from Pennsylvania: three men ages 19, 20 and 22; two 19-year-old women; and a 23-year-old woman.
The wounded were taken to Indiana Regional Medical Center in Indiana, Pennsylvania; UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Marcy in Pittsburgh; and Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown. Six remain hospitalized, one critically, while two had been treated and released, police said later Sunday.
Officials are tracking down who rented the venue for the party, which required payment of a fee before entry, and who was hosting the event, Bivens said.
No suspects were in custody, and police asked anyone with information to contact troopers in Indiana County. Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers announced a $10,000 reward for information in the case leading to arrests and prosecution, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has offered up to $5,000 more.
The shooting scene is about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which was having its homecoming weekend. The school’s vice president for student affairs, Thomas Segar, said two of the injured were students, and officials were working with their families to provide support. Campus activities were going on as scheduled with enhanced police presence, a university official said.
“We understand that incidents like last night’s violence are frightening and may cause continued feelings of fear and worry,” Segar said, before providing information about mental health support and counseling.
Neighbor Robert Miller said he and his wife heard loud music coming from the building as they were about to go to bed.
“Then all of a sudden, I heard about 20 gunshots,” he told the Tribune-Review. “There was people lying on the edge of the sidewalk out there. It’s terrifying.”
His wife, Ellen Ober, said, “There were people everywhere crying and screaming.”
Trooper Cliff Greenfield said investigators were trying to gather as much information as possible from witnesses.
“Clearly we have not been able to interview everyone who was there,” he told the newspaper. “People were fleeing the scene — it was a chaotic scene.”
The Chevy Chase Community Center was built in 1971 by a group established in 1969 to fight poverty and help those in need, according to its website. The center says its mission is to “cultivate, nurture, and sustain a peaceful and inclusive culture that brings community together with positivity, diversity, inclusion, education, nutrition, and love.”
Indiana County District Attorney Robert Manzi Jr., who is listed on the center’s board of directors, said the center provided “meals and a community atmosphere for people in need” and “has served as a place to help members of our community for many decades.”
Executive director Brandi Ports said on the center’s Facebook page that officials are “praying for everyone involved” and that the center would be closed until further notice.
“Please be in prayer for those involved, for our community, and for our staff and volunteers,” she said.
Nearby resident Lillian Clemons told the Tribune-Review that she is a former director of the center and that her brother is among the many people who get meals there. She said she believes the center shouldn’t be rented out on what she called “crazy weekends” such as homecoming.
“I’m about to cry. It’s hurtful because everybody struggles to keep this,” she said. “This was a service for the community. That’s what we need it for, for the people.”