Three wounded during shooting at youth football game Saturday in East Liberty
Gunfire wounded three people and brought an East Liberty youth football game to a chaotic and terrifying end on Saturday, more than two years after city police vowed to crack down on violence at youth games. At least one man fired several shots before running away, witnesses said.
Parents grabbed their children and ran from the stands at Obama International Studies Academy, the former Peabody High School, while others dropped to the ground covering children, witnesses said.
One badly wounded woman tumbled down several steps and onto the ground, witnesses said, and bystanders cradled her head until help arrived.
No children were injured. Police did not identify the victims.
“All I heard was two shots,” said Garrett Barnett, 42, of East Liberty, a coach for the Wilkinsburg Baby Twerps, a team for 4- to 7-year-old players, whose game had just ended. He said he thought someone had set off fireworks. “Then everything got quiet; then everything got real noisy.”
As word spread of the shootings, frantic parents raced to the school, fearing the worst.
Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper declined to comment on Saturday afternoon, saying he had not been briefed on the shooting. Harper had threatened to shut down youth football programs in the city at least twice in the past two years.
Police reviewed school video security footage on Saturday in hopes of identifying any suspects.
A fight had broken out in Wilkinsburg on Friday night, and the dispute continued through Facebook posts into Saturday, police said.
A 27-year-old Wilkinsburg man who was watching the game and had been in an ongoing dispute with other Wilkinsburg men was the target of the shooting, according to Major Crimes Commander Thomas Stangrecki.
The man suffered gunshot wounds in his chest and possibly near his spine, police said.
A 64-year-old Verona woman was hit in the stomach and shoulder, police said. A 33-year-old woman was shot in the hand. Medics took all three victims to UPMC Presbyterian.
The man and older woman were in critical condition on Saturday evening, police said.
“This is something that's repeated itself for decades,” Robert Bailey, 43, of Homewood said as he tightly hugged his trembling and tearful daughter, Tasia Bailey, 7, a cheerleader for the East End Raiders. Bailey said that in 1988, he witnessed a fatal shooting at a Homewood youth football game.
In 2010, a shootout during an Allegheny County Midget Football League game in Homewood injured three people, one critically; Harper threatened to shut down the games when no witnesses came forward to identify suspects. Two days before the shooting, state police had arrested two coaches on charges of selling heroin.
In 2007, a man was shot in the abdomen during a youth football game in Westinghouse Park in Homewood, The gunfire on Saturday erupted moments before 7- to 9-year-olds from the East End and Wilkinsburg took the field with hundreds of people in the stands.
Angry parents and league participants said no Pittsburgh police officers were at the game, one of five scheduled at the school at 515 N. Highland Ave. Officials of the football league could not be reached for comment.
After the 2010 Homewood shooting, Harper and city officials instituted several rules, saying the league had to hire police officers for protection and participants had to obtain credentials.
Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Cheryl Doubt said officers were “en route” to the games on Saturday and had been expected to arrive between 10 and 11 a.m. The shooting occurred about 10:08 a.m.
“If the police had done their jobs, this wouldn't have happened,” said Tamisha Fuller, 40, of Homestead, who was at the scene to watch the game.
“I'm not blaming police, but if you're a city cop, you should want to come to these events,” Barnett said.
Youth football officials plan to meet with Harper, according to a man who answered the phone identified on the organization's website as belonging to East End Raiders President Jay Akers. The man did not identify himself and cited the pending meeting as the reason he declined to comment.
“This is something near and dear to (Harper), and he wants it to be able to continue, but he's not going to jeopardize the safety of the kids,” Doubt said.
“The majority of the adults are trying to do what's right. They want to come to just enjoy the game,” she said. “It's only when you get that minority of people who come in and decide they want to use that as their conflict resolution place, and they're doing that at the sacrifice of a lot of people, and it's not fair.”
Bill Vidonic and Mike Wereschagin are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Vidonic can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com.
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