GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police investigating an early Thursday shooting said an uncooperative crowd created a situation they deemed too dangerous to allow them to help a woman suffering an unrelated medical emergency.
The woman ultimately died.
The shooting victim, a 19-year-old man, showed up at the hospital with life-threatening injuries, according to Grand Rapids Police Department Sgt. John Wittkowski. Police say he was shot in the back and the bullet hit his spine. He remained in critical condition after undergoing surgery, police say.
The shooting happened around 2:30 a.m. on Francis Avenue near the intersection of Crofton Street and Jefferson Avenue on the city’s southeast side. Police were initially called there on a report of shots fired amid a “large gathering.”
Wittkowski said that when officers arrived, they found an “unruly” group of people and also saw a man holding a handgun on the porch of a home. He took off and hasn’t been found.
Wittkowski described the crowd as “belligerent,” saying they surrounded the officers.
Around the same time, police got word that a woman in the house where the armed man had been seen was suffering a medical emergency. Wittkowski said the crowd made it too dangerous for anyone to go in.
“As the result of this incident and us having to pull back due to safety considerations, we were not able to get in there and render her first aid as quickly as we would like,” he told reporters later Thursday morning. “We have to concern ourselves with the community, the safety of the community, and we have to concern ourselves with the safety of our officers. They are not going to go rushing into a scene, particularly when they see somebody with a handgun in their hand. So I know maybe the narrative is we didn’t do anything quick enough. That is truly not the case. We would render aid as we quickly as we safely can.”
Multiple agencies, including the East Grand Rapids Police Department, Kent County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police, responded to help deal with the crowd.
“They were not helping us,” Wittkowski said of the crowd. “They were creating a safety issues for officers so as officers attempted to approach and conduct business, the officers were overcome. I mean, they were surrounded by these individuals. I cannot emphasize this enough: This is not a small crowd that was cooperative. This is to the point that we had to call in other agencies to assist us in controlling this scene. … Not only do we have a crime scene, we have a victim of a medical condition in this house. So we need to control that before we even make entry. They were not- They were not good to us.”
He said no members of the crowd were arrested; police just wanted them to back out of the crime scene perimeter.
Neighbors admit the crowd formed as a result of the shooting but say the group grew frustrated because it took police too long to help the woman.
“The reason the crowd started to come because the police didn’t want to go in the house to help this woman. They were pleading to these officers,” one neighbor, Jonathan Gavin, told News 8. “I understand there’s protocol and everything, but I feel like somebody could’ve took it upon themselves to check on that lady.”
It took officers some 40 minutes to enter the home, which they did around 3:50 a.m. The woman died of the medical problem. Her name was not released, but Wittkowski said she was in her early 60s.
“This is painful as hell,” Wittkowski said. “I’m speaking to officers after this and they’re visibly shaken by what has occurred. A lot of it is by being surrounding, by what’s going on in the community, but they can’t get to this poor woman who needs medical help. And then they have family members that are pleading for us to come in and help. You can think how heartbreaking that is: ‘Please help my mother or my relative,’ and we cannot safely go into a scene.”
As officers investigated the shooting, Wittkowski said they found an “expansive scene” along the street. Several cars were hit by bullets, as was a house. Police found shell casings about half a block down the street, on the sidewalk, in front of the house and on the porch where the armed man was. They also found two guns but don’t yet know if one of them was the one the man was holding.
Police haven’t yet identified the armed man or released a description of him.
They don’t yet know how the victim was connected to the scene. It’s unclear if he was targeted or an unintended victim.
They don’t believe the victim is related to the woman who died, though they were still investigating as of Thursday morning.
Wittkowski urged anyone who was at the scene or who has information about the shooting to call GRPD.
“This is about responsibility, this is about accountability,” he said. “We need to ensure that those have been victimized … come forward and those that are responsible to be brought to justice.
“But we need that help from the community, we need that help from the public. Otherwise we’re spinning our wheels like we have and what we’ve talked about for the last three months,” he continued, referencing the unusually violent year in Grand Rapids, with more than 20 homicides so far in 2020.
Witnesses can call police at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
—News 8’s Donovan Long contributed to this report.