It was a Saturday afternoon in the park, the Florida sunshine barreling down out of a cloudless sky. More than 150 kids flew around the grass, pinballing between two bounce houses and a pavilion. Organizers dubbed the occasion “Peace in the City,” an anti-violence back-to-school event in Titusville, a town on the Sunshine State’s Atlantic coast 45 minutes east of Orlando.
Dwight Harvey, an adult who was DJing at the party, had his cellphone trained on the festivities, live-streaming to his Facebook page as kids and their parents rifled through backpacks stuffed with new school supplies.
Then the gunshots started. A dozen blasts. Laughter turning to screams. Parents frantically shouting names.
“Y’all just witnessed a live shootout,” Harvey said into the camera once the shots stopped, in a video posted by Florida Today. “All these kids in the bounce house back here and they started shooting.”
According to police, an unnamed shooter opened fire in the park crowded with schoolchildren but an armed bystander intervened, shooting the gunman as he was trying to flee.
No other injuries were reported, Titusville Police Deputy Chief Todd Hutchinson said in a statement. “This suspect opened fire at a crowded public park, this could have been so much worse.”
The shooter suffered life-threatening injuries and was airlifted from the scene to a hospital, according to police. But the situation last weekend — a seemingly safe space shattered by a spray of bullets — left both parents and kids shaken.
“There were kids in the path of those bullets. Thank God none of the kids got hit,” Harvey told reporters after the attack. “To have this happen at an event for the kids, at the ‘Peace in the City’ rally, is just crazy to me. It’s unbelievable. It hurts. It hurts.”
According to WFTV, the shooting stemmed from an old grudge.
The unnamed shooter went into the park looking for someone he had fought with three weeks ago over a basketball game, the station reported. The individuals faced off in a fistfight. The shooter left, returned with a gun a few minutes later, and opened fire in the crowded area, police say.
As the shooter was crossing the parking lot, he was confronted by a bystander, who was licensed to carry a handgun. The shooter drew his weapon again, and the bystander shot him in the head.
“[My daughter] called me and said, ‘Mom, come get me. Someone’s been shot,’” parent Stephanie Fayson told WFTV. “I panicked. I mean, wow.”
Police say the bystander fully cooperated with investigators and no charges are expected to be filed against him. The incident, however, already has been slotted into the larger national debate about gun violence. Following the incident, the National Rifle Association shared a tweet about the Titusville situation.
“[T]his is another example of a good guy with a gun stopping a bad one,” the NRA account tweeted. Others countered by suggesting that if it weren’t so easy to obtain guns, perhaps the shooting wouldn’t have happened in the first place.