A man claiming he had been shortchanged fired his automative revolver wildly into a concession stand at the Watermelon Park Bluegrass Festival in Berryville, Va., early yesterday morning wounding three people before he disappeared into a crowd of over 5,000 people.
The shooting was the most serious disturbance to mar the four-day music festival at which between 73 and 160 people were arrested, mostly for public drunkenness, according to park owner John Miller.
Miller who has hosted the festival since the early 1940s said he would "never go through it again." This year's is the last, he said.
The gunman approached the "Forgotten Light", a concession stand selling homemade candles, where he allegedly had an argument earlier in the day over the amount of change he had received after making a purchase.
He brandished a large-caliber, automatic weapon and fired at close range six bullets into the stand's two attendants and a nearby worker.
John Hobson, who was working in a jewelry stand next to the "Forgotten Light" was caught in the line of fire and described what happened in a phone interview from his room at Winchester Memorial Hospital.
"He (the gunman) was trying to tell them he had given them a $20 bill and they only had a five. The next thing I knew the fireworks had started going off and people started dropping.
"He just pulled out a gun and started shooting. It appeared to be a 45 or a nine-millimeter. I saw him cock it back and check the rounds in the chamber and then he started firing on automatic," Hobson said.
Hobson said he saw Phillip Pinto and Lee Dimmrick, salesmen at the "Forgotten Light," drop and then he "was knocked to the ground by a bullet," which struck his hand.
"If he'd fired in the other direction, he'd have gotten the crowd," he said.
Pinto, 30, a New York resident, was in guarded condition in the intensive care unit of Winchester Memorial Hospital, suffering from abdominal critical condition with wounds to the abdomen, chest, and hip. Hobson, 29, was in good condition with hand wounds.
The gunman escaped from the scenic park ground along the Shenandoah River where the crowd had come to hear the likes of Merle Haggard and other blue-grass and country and western performers.
Hobson described his assailant as 5-feet-10, 175 pounds, with short brownish-blond hair, and a mustache. He was wearing a maroon shirt with a blue windbreaker, Hobson said.
The Clarke County Sheriff's Department is investigating the shooting.
The two rescue vehicles that had been on the park grounds earlier in the day were responding to emergency calls elsewhere at the time of the shooting Miller said.
Hobson said he and the other two victims waited half an hour before the ambulances arrived.
The crowd was not aware that a shooting had occured because it was engrossed in the bluegrass performances and mistook the shots for firecrackers, said one man at the scene.
"I heard six loud reports like a sting of loud firecrackers going off. It sounded like gun shots but I dismissed it because it was the Fourth and the people were setting off firecrackers. It blended in with the general noise of the day," he said.