TRENTON, N.J. — Krystal Knapp was 15 minutes from the end of her shift as a volunteer at the entrance to the Art All Night festival in Trenton when she heard some scuffling.
Peering into the long and narrow former factory building where the festival was being held, she saw paintings being knocked to the floor. She heard screams and gunshots as people hurtled toward the exit and she was pushed to the ground and trampled.
Knapp sought shelter behind a car. Then, 15 feet away, one of the gunmen was shot and killed.
The authorities said the shooting appeared to be gang-related and that 22 people were injured; 17 were shot and the others hurt by being trampled. It happened just before 3 a.m. at a 24-hour art festival cherished by Trenton residents as a testament to the New Jersey capital’s artistic revitalization.
Tensions were rising shortly before the event descended into violent chaos.
“There was a report that the mood inside the venue had been changing,” Angelo J. Onofri, the Mercer County prosecutor, said at a news conference Sunday.
He said that before the shooting there were “numerous physical altercations that took place both inside and outside of the venue.”
Police police told organizers the event needed to be shut down and tried to disperse people, but some loitered, and then the shooting broke out, Onofri said.
The person who was killed, Tahaij Wells, 32, was believed to have been shot dead by the police and was one of multiple gunmen, officials said. One was hospitalized in critical condition, and another, identified as Amir Armstrong, 23, was arrested on weapons charges. Onofri said Wells had been in prison on “homicide-related charges” until February, when he was released on parole.
“I grew up in this city and it’s always been rough,” said Gaby Fernández, 21, adding that she went to the festival because the paintings “made me feel proud.”
She said rumors of violence had circulated hours before the shooting but she still showed up with a friend shortly after 11 p.m.
“We both were warned that someone had planned to come and do harm but took the risk anyway,” she said. “I’ve been going to Art All Night for years and it’s always been a safe place.”