BEDFORD, Pa. — Two Bedford shooting incidents within 24 hours involved the same group of activists traveling through the area to a Washington, D.C., Black Lives Matter event.
At the first event at 11:35 p.m. Monday, a man who was participating in the march was shot in what state police called an “exchange of gunfire” following a confrontation with a property owner.
The second was reported as a “shots fired” incident just before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at a hotel where some marchers were staying near the Bedford turnpike exit.
Trooper Joseph Dunsmore, state public information officer, said no one was injured, and the two are being investigated as separate incidents.
State police in Bedford said in a news release that Monday’s confrontation between the group of activists and two residents resulted in one activist being hit with birdshot from a shotgun.
The injured man was taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown for treatment – as the group stood vigil Tuesday morning. He was released later Tuesday, police said.
About 30 marchers were on a journey to Washington, the state police release said.
Troopers questioned two people at the barracks on Tuesday.
“It’s a very in-depth and complicated investigation,” Dunsmore said.
Group spokesman Frank Nitty, who identified himself as a community advocate, said the group is walking from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the nation’s capital for a rally on Friday.
He said after the group reached Juniata Township, shots were fired.
“We just got through stretching and were listening to prayer and gospel music when we heard a gunshot,” Nitty said. “We paused, thinking maybe a tire blew out, when we heard ‘boom,’ and I got everybody back into their cars. This guy just came out of the darkness and was shooting at us.”
Nitty said a second man yelled a racial slur at the marchers.
Police said the marchers and their support vehicles had stopped in a parking area at along Lincoln Highway, Route 30, just east of the Somerset-Bedford County line. The property owners confronted the group at about 11:35 p.m. Monday, police said.
“The confrontation escalated and gunshots were exchanged between the property owners and the activists,” the press release said, adding that a 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun and a shotgun were recovered.
During an afternoon press conference, state police Troop G commander Capt. Jamie Clark and Heritage Affairs Section commander Lt. William Slaton each said investigators are not ready to say who fired each gun.
“There was a 9 mm, there was a weapon at the scene and there were rounds found at the scene,” Clark said. “We can say that was discharged at the scene. The shotgun that was recovered at the scene, we have shells. We can say that was fired. We have the two weapons that were fired.
“We are still looking at who exchanged fire.”
Slaton stopped short of confirming any activist fired a weapon.
“What I would report is exactly what we indicated: There was an exchange of gunfire,” Slaton said. “That is all the amount of information that we are willing to release at this time without compromising the investigation.”
Asked what led to the confrontation, Clark said, “They were asked to leave and they didn’t leave.”
Police only identified the location as the 800 block of Lincoln Highway. Cruisers were seen Tuesday afternoon at Myers Garage, 817 Lincoln Highway. There are no other businesses or parking lots in the 800 section of the highway.
Jeffrey Wilson, president of the Johnstown Police Advisory Board; Alan Cashaw, president of the Johnstown Chapter of the NAACP; and City Councilman Rick Britt visited the hospital and spoke with the marchers.
“The situation is resolved and the protesters have left the area,” Wilson said. “I want to make sure the narrative is correct. This gentleman was shot. He was a victim.”
Wilson said the protesters were walking through Bedford County en route to Washington when “this person accosted them.”
He said the hospital provided the protesters with food, water and a tent. Wilson thanked the hospital staff and Johnstown for being a “supportive community.”
State police major case teams from troops A and G are investigating. Also involved is the PSP’s Heritage Affairs Section, which specializes in building relationships with minority communities and investigates hate crimes.
“No one is insinuating that this incident here had any type of hate or racial animus to it,” Slaton said
Results of the investigation will be given to Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts. No charges have been filed and all those being questioned were released, she said.
Investigators have contact information for all parties, Clark said.
‘Trying to take shelter’
For Leena Le, of Milwaukee, the peaceful scene became chaotic around 11:30 p.m.
“We were just in a circle congregating,” she said outside the hospital. “This man on this porch just stared at us, telling us to get out.
“He was calling someone the phone,” Le said. “We thought maybe he was calling the cops, but I wasn’t worried.
“We were about to start marching, and we saw a guy coming down the street and he shot into the air. Then he aimed at the walkers, and that’s when everyone started rushing to their cars, trying to take shelter.”
The marchers plan to arrive in Washington to attend the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The March to Washington 2020 group members were on their 21st day of marching more than 30 miles per day.
‘Dude’s shooting at us’
A video purportedly filmed at the scene by a march member was shared Tuesday on YouTube under the pro-activist page “WeFlexDetroit” that showed protesters walking alongside their cars through the community moments before a gunshot is heard in the distance.
“That was a gunshot,” one said.
“Who is that?” a woman added.
Within moments, a series of additional shots were fired and people around the man filming the scene started to retreat from their path.
“This dude’s shooting at us,” a man said, before sounds of gunfire nearby, and in the distance, rang out on the video clip.
A man behind the camera yelled for fellow marchers to flee to their vehicles as they attempted to drive away from the scene. Before heading down the road, they waited for a young man who said he was hit with “buckshot” to enter the vehicle and started to address his wounds.
The police release used the term “birdshot” to describe the wound.
A stream of blood was visible on the side of his face.
In segments that followed, a panicked passenger searched through a cell phone for a local hospital, while a fellow passenger wept.
Another video clip showed a man with a rifle raised at people, as shouting occurred in the background. He then paced toward them, making his way onto the street before pointing the weapon at someone else.
Neither video offered an indication of what sparked the altercation.