FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Authorities arrested a man in connection with a mass shooting at a family birthday party in New Jersey over the weekend that left two people dead and 12 others injured, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Monday.
Kevin Dawkins, 36, of Commerce Street in Bridgeton, was arrested on Sunday, officials said. He faces a slew of charges, including unlawful possession of a weapon weapon, unlawful possession of a large capacity magazine, and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.
Additional arrests are expected in connection with the case, according to Grewal and State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan.
Chaos erupted around 11:50 p.m. Saturday when gunshots rang out at a home on East Commerce Street in Fairfield Township, Cumberland County, located about an hour outside of Philadelphia.
Shooting victims identified
Kevin Elliot, 30, and Asia Hester, 25, both of Bridgeton, were killed, officials said. The 12 additional victims were treated at area hospitals, and some were still fighting for their lives on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said during a briefing on the case.
The victims — both men and women — range in age from 19 to 35 years old. They’re all residents of Cumberland County.
Authorities estimate several hundred people were at the party when the shooting happened, county prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said.
John Fuqua, who runs the local anti-violence organization Life Worth Living, said he was called out Saturday night to assist families. He said the shooting happened at a 90s-themed party where guests ranged from teenagers to senior citizens.
Photos from the scene showed overturned pop-up party tents, tables and chairs, and debris throughout the home’s yard. A long driveway was still filled with cars late Sunday morning.
Two cousins who live in the area of the shooting said they heard music from the party until after midnight, then a series of shots — at least 15 of them over a few minutes.
Joeron Pierce and James Pierce, who live in homes next to each other, said there was chaos after that. Partygoers ran through their yards and asked to come into their houses. They said cars crashed into one other as drivers tried to speed away.
Gov. Murphy on Monday called the shooting “horrific” and “horrendous.” Mental health resources will be provided to shooting victims and other party attendees.
“This was a birthday party. A birthday party is supposed to be a joyous event, not a target for those hellbent on inflicting harm on a community” he said.
Shooting was targeted attack
Attorney General Grewal said there was still a significant amount of evidence to process from the scene given the size of the party and the number of victims, however, a preliminary investigation indicated the shooting was a targeted attack.
“This was not a random act of violence,” he added.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the two people killed were the intended targets.
Multiple firearms and shell casings were recovered at the scene, and authorities were investigating whether they were tied to other crimes in New Jersey.
State Police Superintendent Callahan said it appears some of the attendees were originally at another house party on King Drive. When that party broke up around 11 p.m., several people moved over to the party on East Commerce Street shortly before gunfire erupted.
A state trooper near the area heard what sounded like gunshots and immediately responded to the scene, Callahan said. Around the same time, 911 calls reporting the shooting began to pour in.
“This was a birthday party that turned deadly,” Callahan said.
By the time police arrived, many of the attendees and some of the shooting victims had left the house, according to Callahan.
Officials urged anyone who took photos or videos at the party to share them with law enforcement, as authorities continue to piece together what happened and potentially identify additional suspects.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the New Jersey State Police Bridgeton Station at 856-451-0101 or submit a tip via the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office tips website. Anonymous tips are welcome.