At least 21 people were shot and injured in three separate shootings in Milwaukee’s downtown bar district after the Milwaukee Bucks playoff game, which drew thousands of people to the Deer District.
One of the shootings, which occurred shortly after 11 pm, left 17 people wounded.
The victims ranged in age from 15 to 47, and all are expected to survive, Milwaukee police said. Ten people were arrested and nine guns were recovered, according to a brief news release from Milwaukee police sent early Saturday.
Authorities have not released further information about the victims, the ages of the suspects and what they believe led up to the shooting.
The mass shooting occurred shortly after 11pm Friday on North Water Street near Highland Avenue – just two hours after and blocks away from an earlier shooting that wounded three people, including a 16-year-old girl.
In that shooting, police arrested a 19-year-old man and said two other men, ages 29 and 26, were wounded near the corner of North Martin Luther King Drive and Highland Avenue.
The gunshots sent hundreds of fans running through the Deer District, where 11,000 people had gathered to watch Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series between the Bucks and Boston Celtics.
Soon after that shooting, at about 10:30 pm, a 20-year-old man was shot and injured on North Water Street near West Highland Avenue. It was not clear early Saturday if the man’s shooting was connected to the mass shooting that later happened in the same location.
The Deer District has drawn thousands of people downtown in the last year to cheer on the Bucks. The area has been seen by many as a unifying space in a city with a reputation for segregated spaces.
On Friday night after the game, the streets were packed with people on what felt like the first night of summer in the city.
Thousands of people flooded out of Fiserv Forum and the Deer District and surrounding bars, with the large crowds swelling into the streets in what was almost a festival-like atmosphere at first that spilled out of control – complete with music blasting, clouds of smoke and people stopping traffic for impromptu dance parties.
Then gunfire sent people running. A Journal Sentinel reporter who left the arena about 11:30 pm heard sirens in all directions from dozens of police squads and ambulances and saw drivers running red lights, speeding, swerving, yelling at pedestrians and at least one driver going the wrong way on a street.
The violence hit an entertainment district that has been battered by two years of the pandemic and other high-profile incidents of gun violence, including two homicides earlier this year.
Last month, Shannon Freeman, a 30-year-old father and beloved chef, was shot and killed at The Loaded Slate bar. Prosecutors say a 24-year-old man shot him 11 times and continued to do so even after he fell to the ground, after what appeared to be minimal interaction between the two inside the bar.
In February, Krystal N. Tucker, 31, was killed and two others injured in a shooting at the popular Brownstone Social Lounge, where Tucker worked. Authorities say the shooter had been denied access to the bar because of its age restrictions, and after being escorted away, drew a gun and opened fire.
‘Bullets were being sprayed everywhere’: Witnesses describe chaos in Deer District
By Saturday morning, North Water Street was littered with trash, blood spatters and evidence that people fled the area quickly.
A few police officers from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and two workers with Milwaukee Downtown, the business improvement district, were picking up trash and debris.
Broken glass, empty alcohol bottles, single shoes, hair combs and packaging for medical gauze littered the streets and blood dotted the sidewalks. Two bloody shirts had been left behind and one blood trail on a sidewalk stretched the length of two establishments: Elwood’s Liquor and Tap to the former Water Street Brewery.
Michael Tulsky, an MSOE student was inside his apartment at the intersection of East Juneau Avenue and North Water Street, when he heard gunshots near Duke’s on Water.
Within five minutes, he heard more gunfire near McGillicuddy’s and Elwood’s.
“Bullets were being sprayed everywhere,” Tulsky said.
Tulsky watched from his window overlooking the intersection as crowds ran from the area. “People parted like the Red Sea,” he said. “Everyone was out of here as fast as they possibly could.”
Tulsky also saw a vehicle nearly hit a police officer who was walking across the street toward the scene of the shooting.
Then, he said, five other officers fired multiple rounds at the vehicle that sped away. Milwaukee police did not release any information about officers firing their guns in their initial release, but are expected to speak to reporters later Saturday.
Tulsky said he plans to stay inside during the next Bucks game, away from his windows. A bullet hit the window of his friend’s apartment next door, he said.
Another witness, Timothy Seymour, was inside Trinity Three Irish Pubs, at East Juneau Avenue and North Edison Street, when he looked out the window and saw people running outside.
He did not know initially what had happened, but then a second round of gunfire about 15 minutes later made him realize there had been two shootings, he said.
Bar staff pulled everyone on Trinity’s patio inside, where Seymour and his friends, and everyone waited in the bar until about 11:30 pm when staff sent everyone home.
“As a city, we should do better. It’s not even sports-related at that point. More so somebody just creating havoc, ”Seymor said.
Seymour, a Third Ward resident, has lived in Milwaukee his entire life and said he has not seen gun violence at this level before.
“When the city has eyes on it, like it does with the Bucks in the playoffs and everything, it’s kind of sad more so than anything,” he said.
‘Everybody has a gun’: Alderman draws link to last summer’s violence
Last summer, violence in the Water Street area – including reckless driving, fighting and shootings – drew widespread attention and pledges from public officials to make sure the district was safe.
Police vowed to maintain a “constant presence” in the area on weekend nights and nights of Bucks home games. At the time, one bar owner told elected officials “lawlessness that has taken over our street is nothing short of shocking and terrifying.”
In an interview Saturday morning, Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman, who represents much of downtown, said he has been hearing from condominium associations over the last month or two about their concerns over last summer’s violence downtown.
“I told them very frankly, based on current conditions, I do not know why last summer’s violence would not reoccur,” Bauman said. “I mean, you have the same dynamics.”
“The police had told me last year and I suspect it’s true again – everybody has a gun,” he added. “They’re outgunned, by far.”
He also raised concerns about the “tailgating” downtown, which he described as “non-bar patrons who just sit in or around their vehicles – drink, smoke, and play music – and they’re armed.”
“With all that going on again, there’s no reason this would not happen. Because all the same conditions exist for it to happen – guns, lawless behavior, warm weather with the magnetic effect of a Bucks game,” Bauman said. “You almost have to pray for cold and rain.”
The alderman said he had been told police planned to staff up and have a large presence downtown, but Bauman is calling for discussions about security perimeters around entertainment districts, weapons checks, and removing street parking in the area.
“They’re going to have to look at removing all the street parking for blocks away to prevent the tailgating from taking place,” he said.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and Council President José G. Pérez could not immediately be reached for interviews Saturday morning. Johnson is expected to speak with reporters later Saturday.
Some residents are already pushing for Johnson to do more. Tom and Deb Russo, who were walking their dachshund early Saturday morning along Water Street, said the shootings were “terrible” and “outrageous.”
They said if gun violence isn’t curbed soon, people will not want to spend time and money downtown, and businesses could move out of the area.
“The mayor seems to be talking tough on it, but we do not see anything happening yet, but he’s only been in office, what, a month?” Tom Russo said. “He says it’s his number one priority, and it ought to be his number one priority.”
A few years ago, the couple moved to a condo in the Third Ward after raising their children in an Illinois suburb. They wanted to live in a “little urban city,” Deb Russo said.
“We did not know what was in store,” she said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Anyone with any information about the shootings is asked to contact Milwaukee Police at (414) 935-7360 or to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at (414) 224-Tips or P3 Tips App.
Contact Ashley Luthern at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @aluthern.