• Sun. Apr 2nd, 2023

By: Felicia Jordan & Herald staff

CINCINNATI — The two young men killed in a July 4 shooting at Smale Park likely attacked each other, police Chief Eliot Isaac said Monday afternoon.

Sixteen-year-old Princeton High School student Milo Watson and 19-year-old Dexter Wright Jr. had a pre-existing disagreement that they brought with them to Smale Sunday night, according to Isaac’s account of the shooting. Police were in the park at 10:48 p.m., attempting to clear out roughly 400 July 4 celebrants ahead of its 11 p.m. closing time, when shots sounded and the first 911 calls came in.

Watson died at the scene. Wright lived long enough to be briefly hospitalized but died overnight.

Three other teenagers — two girls and a boy, all under the age of 18 — were injured in the crossfire. All three are hospitalized. One, a 17-year-old girl, has severe injuries that could threaten her life.

“There is potential that there may be some others involved,” Isaac said Monday. “However, we are not actively looking for anybody by name at this point.”

Isaac congratulated officers and firefighters who responded to the scene for taking immediate action to stabilize the surviving victims, applying tourniquets to some and putting pressure on their wounds to stop the bleeding so they could be transported to area hospitals. The park remained shut down for investigation through much of Monday morning.

Violence in Smale Park has been a problem since at least 2020, Isaac added, and the city of Cincinnati is still struggling to find the correct response.

“There has to be a solution other than police just managing this,” Isaac said. “We don’t want to overpolice, and we don’t want to underpolice. We have to find the correct balance.”

Councilmember Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney released the following statement Monday following the shooting:

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the July 4th tragic shooting. We lost two young men, ages 16 and 19, and there is a 17-year-old girl in critical condition. We are praying for her complete recovery, and we are praying for the families who must face the devasting loss of loved ones.

Everyone is asking why, and we know there is not just one answer, there are several. To many guns are being dropped off in our communities and then falling into the hands of our young people. The wealth gap is getting wider and those struggling economically are having an even harder time. We are not doing enough for our young people: They need jobs, recreational actives, education, skills training, mentoring, and conflict resolutions training.

There is no easy fix. All of us – City Council and our communities – must continue to work together, and failures is not an option. Neither is giving up.

One life senselessly lost to violence is one too many. We must wrap our arms around all our young people and let them know by our actions that we need them and love them.

I thank our police officers for their quick response and for their tireless efforts to save the lives of the victims.”

Peterson Mingo, a community advocate with Cincinnati police, got to the scene soon after the shooting happened.

Given how frequent gun violence has been in the city in recent weeks, Mingo said, he is pushing for more mental health care for the communities affected. He said the trauma can compound and contribute to the violence.

“We pray for the families,” Mingo said. “Because they’re definitely going to wake up tomorrow with the feeling of, ‘Is this a dream, is it a nightmare, or what?'”

An immediate step Mingo said the city could take would be to impose a curfew.

“There needs to be enforced curfew right now; 10 p.m. curfew would be beautiful,” he said. “I’ve got eight sons, three daughters, 28 grandkids, and I know I’d be going through it also if someone in my family became a victim.”

Representatives of Princeton High School, which Watson had attended, released a statement encouraging students and families to contact student services for trauma-related counseling and care.

“Our heart is with Milo’s family and loved ones as they process this tragic loss,” wrote Princeton City School District superintendent Tom Burton. “We have a deep concern for the safety and well-being of our students, their families, and those who were impacted by this terrible event. The loss of a student creates a hole in our community that is felt by us all.”

Rev. Damon Lynch III will be holding a “Stop the Gun Violence” forum at New Prospect Baptist Church, 1580 Summit Rd., July 10 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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