The shooting took place in crowded Jack Farrell Park, where an estimated 60 people, including many children, were enjoying the outdoors at about 6 p.m. People ran screaming from the playground and the ball field. A disturbing video posted on social media taken by a girl showed her running in a panic as shots rang out.
East Palo Alto resident Ralph Fields Jr., 34, a relative of Las Vegas Raiders' wide receiver Davante Adams, died. His death is the first homicide of the year, Interim police Chief Jeff Liu said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"I want to emphasize that this was not a random attack of any kind," Liu said, trying to calm fears in the wake of Saturday's hate-fueled mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.
Two pairs of people were shooting at each other Tuesday evening, firing 33 shots in the park. Located in the 2500 block of Fordham Street, Jack Farrell Park — which used to be a crime hot spot — was designated a "fit zone" and "clean zone" in recent years, a place where police engage in fitness programs with community members and where residents volunteer to clean up trash and graffiti.
Residents who live by the park said Tuesday evening that they heard at least three to five different guns firing multiple rounds.
Resident Francisco Carlos said he was at home in bed when he heard what first sounded like firecrackers.
"Then there was a different sound, and I thought they were gunshots," he said.
He ran outside and saw a man lying on the grass near the park with a chest wound.
"These things happen so fast," he said.
Carlos said he didn't see the shooter or shooters. Everyone was running away on foot or by car to get out of the way, he added.
The police were notified of the shooting by the city's acoustic-detection system, ShotSpotter, which provides alerts when gunshots are fired in an area.
Police said Tuesday that Fields died in an ambulance en route to a hospital. Two injured people took themselves to the nearby Menlo Park Fire Protection District station on University Avenue, where fire personnel aided them before they were taken to a hospital. A fourth person was found at a home on Fordham Street and didn't seek treatment.
Police closed Fordham Street at Michigan Avenue to traffic and cordoned off the park on Tuesday night.
Police ask for witnesses to come forward
Fields was one of the 16 Operation Sunny Day defendants in 2014 who were indicted on gang-related felonies, including murders between three rival gangs. Fields, who was not among the defendants charged with murder, was sentenced in 2015 to 2 years, 4 months in prison for reckless discharge of a firearm and being in a gang. Liu said investigators are looking into Fields' past.
Despite the high visibility of the crime, police don't have many witnesses, Liu said. The motive for the shootout is unknown.
"I'm making a plea to the community. We need to hear from you. Please share any information and any videos that you may have. It is imperative that we find the suspects responsible for this incident and hold them accountable," he said.
Liu said he has beefed up patrols with the assistance of the Menlo Park Police Department.
Church leaders spoke against the violence and offered counseling to anyone who needs it.
For Pastor Paul Bains of St. Samuel/Project WeHope, Fields' homicide was personal. Fields' mother works for him, Bains said.
"This is an egregious act on the sanctity of life and it is a tragic and horrible thing on our community. We're not going to tolerate this. We're not going back there," he said, noting the year 1992, when 43 homicides occurred in the city, which was then labeled the per-capita "murder capital" of the country.
"We have grown since then. The community is more engaged to speak up on crimes," he said.
Pastor Deborah Lewis-Virges of St. Mark AME Zion Church added: "We will continue to speak out. We will continue to protest. We will continue to do what is necessary so that all parties know that this is absolutely unacceptable. Because what they do not count on is things like this brings all of us together, and when we're all together, there's a power that strengthens the numbers.
"So know that it will not be tolerated. and we will continue to stand (and) to do our part in making sure that justice is prevailed," Lewis-Virges said.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish's Father Lawrence Goode, pastor, who spoke in Spanish and English, noted that his church held Holy Week events at Jack Farrell Park.
"It's a place that is like a shelter where kids can go and enjoy ... in the outdoors," he said.
Goode asked the community to come together to prevent further violence or retaliation. Keeping the park as a safe haven for the community can only happen if people address crime and refuse to tolerate it, he said.
Mayor Ruben Abrica said the City Council will hold a special community meeting on Zoom at 6 p.m. on Thursday to dialog with the community. Many resources will be made available for people who are experiencing trauma or mental health issues as a result of the shooting.
Anyone in need of counseling or assistance with their trauma is encouraged to go to any of the city's churches or to call the county's crisis hotline, 211.
Counselors were also present for students in the Ravenswood City School District, Superintendent Gina Sudaria announced on Tuesday night in a letter to the school community.
"Families and children practicing softball and playing on the playground structures found themselves caught in the crossfires, now traumatized," she said.
State Sen. Josh Becker said in a tweet on Wednesday that he was "horrified" by the shooting.
"One of our neighbors lost their life and three were injured in a park where children play and families gather. My deep sympathy to the loved ones of all involved and prayers for survival of the wounded. This is why gun violence must end," he tweeted.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call acting Cmdr. Angel Sanchez at 650-853-3154. Anonymous tips can be sent by email to [email protected] or by text or voicemail to 650-409-6792.