“It’s a dark day in our community,” Pao Yang, head of a nonprofit that serves Southeast Asian refugees, said Monday. “Our community is mourning. We still don’t know what’s going on.”
About 30 family members and friends had gathered at a home to watch football Sunday evening when the shooters slipped through an unlocked side gate and fired indiscriminately at a group of men in the backyard, according to police.
The attackers, armed with semiautomatic pistols, fled on foot before partygoers could make out their faces in the darkness, police said.
Three people were pronounced dead on the scene, and a fourth died in the hospital. Police did not identify the victims by name but said they were all Asian males who ranged in age from 23 to 40. The survivors were all between 28 and 36 years old. As of Monday, two injured victims remained hospitalized in stable condition, according to police.
Two of the men who died were well-known Southeast Asian singers who often performed for mental health patients at a hospital, according to Yang.
Fresno Police Deputy Chief Andrew Hall said the department was mobilizing an “Asian gang task force” to investigate whether the attack was connected to recent a spike in violent crime in the city by Asian gangs. There was no indication that the residents were involved in gangs, he said, but investigators believe the gunman intentionally targeted the house.
“What I can tell you is this was not a random act,” Hall said at a Monday news conference.
Police described the roughly 10-block area where the attack happened as a quiet, working-class neighborhood that was home to many Hmong families. Hall said the department did not consider it a “problem neighborhood” and added that investigators were getting “excellent cooperation” from all the partygoers.
“These are really pillars of our community. These are working families,” Hall said. “This is truly a good group of people who were simply having a party.”
Police and community members said they were especially concerned about preventing violence ahead of upcoming Hmong new year festivities, which draw thousands of Southeast Asians to the area every December. According to Hall, police have responded to 11 violent incidents involving Asian gangs this year, including three in November.
Officers said they found a “scene of chaos” when they responded to the shooting Sunday evening. Ten gunshot victims lay dead or injured on the back lawn. Two of the officers treating them were “covered in blood” and had to be decontaminated, Fresno police captain Anthony Martinez told reporters. “The entire neighborhood was victimized when this took place,” Martinez said.
The party was peaceful and quiet before the gunman stormed in, according to Hall. At some point the women and children went inside the house to watch TV while a group of more than a dozen men stayed outside watching a football game. “It was purely luck that they were separated,” Hall said.
BREAKING NEWS: police and ambulance flood Fresno neighborhood.Posted by Gilbert Magallon ABC30 on Sunday, November 17, 2019
A man who lives near the shooting scene said another home was shot at last week, spurring fear about gunfire in the neighborhood.
“It makes me feel unsafe to be outside when the sun’s down,” Choua Vang told the Fresno Bee. “We’re thinking about moving out of the neighborhood.”
Police say they will go door to door seeking witnesses and security camera footage that might identify the shooter.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that “all Americans are shocked and heartbroken by the latest act of horror and bloodshed” at the Fresno gathering. She offered prayers to the victims, their families and the first responders who cared for the victims.
She then spoke of changing U.S. gun laws.
“Enough is enough,” her statement said. “The daily tragedy of gun violence continues to inflict terror and violence into communities across the country. Americans deserve real action to keep them safe, but Republicans continue to obstruct meaningful, bipartisan solutions to protect our children and communities. No one’s political survival is more important than the survival of our children.”
She called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to “listen to the will of the American people” and to pass “commonsense gun violence prevention legislation that the House passed more than 260 days ago.”
“Too many Americans in too many communities are forced to live in fear,” her statement said. “We will never rest until we end the epidemic of gun violence.”
The backyard shooting came weeks after a shooting at a Halloween party in an Airbnb rental left five dead in Orinda, Calif., and just days after a 16-year-old student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., shot five of his classmates, killing two of them. After his ambush in the school’s quad, authorities said he shot himself in the head and later died of his injuries.
There was also a call for action following that shooting.
“We need to say ‘no more.’ This is a tragic event that happens too frequently,” said Capt. Robert Lewis of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. “When are we going to come together as a community . . . to say ‘no more?' ”