NJ mass shooting: 19-year-old dead, 2nd arrest made: State police

New Jersey
New Jersey mass shooting

Investigators works the scene of a mass shooting in Fairfield Township, New Jersey on May 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A third person has been confirmed dead and a second person has been arrested in connection with a mass shooting at a family birthday party in New Jersey over the weekend that left two others dead and 11 others injured, the New Jersey State Police said Tuesday.

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.

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.

One of those 12 victims, 19-year-old Braylin Holmes, succumbed to her injuries sustained in the shooting and was pronounced deceased Monday night at a hospital.

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.

Darrell Dawkins, 30, also of Bridgeton, N.J. Dawkins was at the party at a when the shooting occurred and has been charged with unlawful possession of a handgun. The investigation at this time does not reveal that Dawkins is a suspected shooter at the party.

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. Phil 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.

Attorney General Gurbir 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 tipline at www.njccpo.org/tips. The New Jersey State Police has a database for witnesses to upload cell phone video captured during the incident. Go to https://njsphq.evidence.com/axon/citizen/public/fairfieldmassshooting to anonymously upload any videos that may assist with the investigation. Anonymous tips are welcome

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