Old Market shooting victims were innocent bystanders, chief says; Stothert says downtown area ‘absolutely’ safe

Old Market shooting victims were innocent bystanders, chief says; Stothert says downtown area ‘absolutely’ safe
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, right, with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Acting Deputy Chief Thomas Shaffer, hold a press conference in the chief’s office at Omaha Police Headquarters to address the shooting in the Old Market on Saturday. (World-Herald News Service)

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said Monday that Jasmine Harris and the other people who were hit by gunshots Saturday night in the Old Market were innocent bystanders caught between two shooters from rival gangs.

Schmaderer spoke to the news media Monday after the weekend shooting near 11th and Farnam Streets in which Harris, 20, was killed and six other people were injured.

After the Taste of Omaha closed down for the evening around 11 p.m., Schmaderer said, 20 juveniles were involved in a fight. Omaha police officers used pepper balls to break up the fight. Police moved the juveniles along, he said.

Later, one person in each of two rival gangs, one group going west on a sidewalk on Farnam and one heading east, began shooting at each other, he said. Harris, he said, was shot in the back. Several parked cars also were struck by gunfire.

No one has been arrested in the shooting, the chief said, but several “persons of interest” have been identified. He declined to name the two gangs involved or to say how many shots were fired, though he said there were “quite a few.”

Extra officers will be assigned to patrol the Old Market through the College World Series, Schmaderer said.

The chief said May was an “extremely violent month” in Omaha, with 21 shooting victims recorded. Though none was fatal, 20 to 30 rounds were fired at several of the scenes.

Schmaderer said two or three “brazen” individuals in the gangs were willing to fire guns indiscriminately.

“What we are asking for here is the public’s help to put an end to this spike in violence,” he said.

As an example, he cited a person who was lying across the top of a white SUV, brandishing a firearm, as the vehicle drove past J & J Grocery, near 42nd Street and Bedford Avenue. The person with the gun didn’t shoot, the chief said, because he saw young children in the area.

But that same vehicle was involved in shootings minutes after that. The vehicle was impounded May 28.

The chief urged anyone with information about the shootings to contact Omaha Crime Stoppers at 402-444-7867 (STOP). Anyone who has information that leads to the identification and arrest of a homicide suspect is eligible for a $25,000 reward.

Before the press conference, Mayor Jean Stothert said in an interview that downtown Omaha is safe despite the weekend shooting.

“Downtown Omaha is absolutely a safe place to be,” Stothert said. “This is a large city. Periodically, we will have things flare up. It will get addressed, and things will go back to normal. I have full confidence in Chief Schmaderer and his entire team.”

She said that Omaha crime, in all categories, is down. She noted that the month of May has historically been one of the most violent.

Asked about calls for a youth curfew in downtown, Stothert said as of today, she would oppose such a curfew, because it would likely have to be enacted across the city.

However, she said, the city’s Law Department is looking into curfews and seeing how they have worked in other cities.

Schmaderer provided information about the injuries to the people from Saturday’s shooting.

Besides Jasmine Harris, the other gunshot victims were Dewayne Staley Jr., 28, who was hit in the leg; Makye Thomas, 15, who sustained a foot injury; Kristen Prater, 16, whose leg was grazed; Velia Vasquez, 18, who was shot in the pelvis; Robert McGhee-Gould, 20, who was hit in the foot; and Alanis Mease, 17, whose foot was grazed. Gregory Austin, 19, was also injured, but police his injury was caused by flying glass.

Prater said Monday that she attended the Taste of Omaha event Saturday night with a friend and then headed over to 11th and Farnam Streets. She was standing by the wall separating the sidewalk from Gene Leahy Mall when she heard gunshots.

Prater, a Northwest High School student, said she started running the opposite direction. She kept running despite feeling pain in her right leg.

Prater made it to 14th and Farnam, where a man called an ambulance and put pressure on the teenager’s right leg, which had been grazed by a bullet.

Monday, Prater said, she got stitches in her leg. It still was sore and swollen. She said she hadn’t heard or seen anything before she heard the gunshots.