Three shot at youth football game in East Liberty
Robert Bailey comforts his daughter, Tasia, a cheerleader for the East End Raiders, following a shooting at a youth football game against Wilkinsburg in East Liberty on Saturday, as a woman also offers comfort.
Pittsburgh police investigators look over the scene of the morning shooting in East Liberty on Saturday.
An abandoned mermaid doll left in the stands of Pittsburgh Obama International Studies Academy in East Liberty is surrounded by drops of blood after a shooting before a Saturday football game.
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It was to have been the Homecoming game for the East End Raiders peewee football team -- their fans decked out from their socks to their hats in breast-cancer pink as 7- to 9-year-olds took the field at Pittsburgh Obama International Studies Academy in East Liberty.
Instead, hundreds of parents and children found themselves running and ducking for cover Saturday morning as gunshots rang from the metal bleachers overlooking the field -- the third shooting at a Pittsburgh youth football game in the last five years.
A statement released by Pittsburgh police said a 27-year-old man from Wilkinsburg was shot in the chest, a 64-year-old woman from Verona was shot in the stomach and shoulder and a 33-year-old woman was shot in the hand. The first two are in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery at UPMC Presbyterian. The third victim is in stable condition.
The shootings occurred at 10:08 a.m. Names of the victims were not released.
According to the police statement, "a fight broke out in the stands, which was related to an ongoing dispute involving the 27-year-old from Wilkinsburg and other males from Wilkinsburg. Gunshots erupted which appear to have been intended for the male victim." The two women were not targets.
"I thought it was fireworks. We often do that," said Garrett Barnett, coach of the Wilkinsburg "Baby Twerps" team of 4- to 7-year-olds that had just finished its game against the East End Raiders. "Everything got real quiet, and then real noisy. Kids were crying, they were all scared."
The building at 515 N. Highland Ave. housed Pittsburgh Peabody High School until 2010. Pittsburgh Obama, serving grades 6-12, moved into the building this school year.
Cheryl Doubt, commander of Zone 5 police station in East Liberty said a dispute began Friday in Wilkinsburg, continued on Facebook overnight and culminated with the shootings at the football game.
Asked the nature of the dispute, she said she didn't know.
"It doesn't matter to me what it was about," Cmdr. Doubt said. "I'm sure it was really petty."
The children and coaches on the field ran toward basketball courts away from the high school, said Mr. Barnett, while spectators in the bleachers ducked for cover.
Hours after the shooting, the stands were still dotted with athletic bags and half-empty bottles of Gatorade. A mermaid Barbie doll lay surrounded by drops of dried blood.
Three later games, for older boys, were canceled as organizers scrambled to find freezer space to store the chicken and hamburger that was to have served as concessions. The East End Athletics Association -- a group founded in 2008 to decrease violence in the East End -- still planned to hold the teams' Homecoming dance Saturday night.
Talk among parents after the game buzzed with angry complaints that there were no police officers present during the shooting. Security procedures implemented by police after a 2010 shooting during a break between midget football games at Stargell Field in Homewood require teams to hire police officers to be present at the games, they said.
"This is ridiculous," said Tamisha Fuller, 40, of Homestead, whose 2-year-old granddaughter was at the game during the shooting. "If the police would've been there, doing their job, this never would have happened."
Cmdr. Doubt said officers were "en route" to the games and were to have arrived between 10 and 11 a.m.
A shooting also occurred at a youth football game at Stargell Field in 2007.
Because of those shootings, coaches are required to get background checks and wear police-issued identification, in addition to hiring police officers.
Cmdr. Doubt said police were reviewing surveillance video from school cameras pointed at the stadium. She said police "have some information on one possible actor." She believed that the altercation was between "young adults."
Police Chief Nate Harper has taken a close interest in the football league, said Cmdr. Doubt. Last year, police officers removed three coaches from a game in Homewood because they lacked credentials or didn't show them willingly.
She was unsure what Chief Harper's next move would be in terms of safety for the thousands of children in the Allegheny County Midget Football League.
"This is something near and dear to him -- he wants to keep it going, but he is not going to jeopardize the safety of the kids," she said. "That's what's most important."
East End Raider parents and grandparents on the sideline -- dressed for their Homecoming game in pink Raiders hats, jerseys and socks -- were equally concerned about the future of the league.
"If it doesn't go on, where do these children go?" Ms. Fuller said. "My children wouldn't be what they are without this league."
First Published October 14, 2012 12:00 am