CINCINNATI — The two young men killed in a July 4 shooting at Smale Park likely attacked each other, police Chief Eliot Isaac said Monday afternoon.
Sixteen-year-old Princeton High School student Milo Watson and 19-year-old Dexter Wright Jr. had a pre-existing disagreement that they brought with them to Smale Sunday night, according to Isaac's account of the shooting. Police were in the park at 10:48 p.m., attempting to clear out roughly 400 July 4 celebrants ahead of its 11 p.m. closing time, when shots sounded and the first 911 calls came in.
Watson died at the scene. Wright lived long enough to be briefly hospitalized but died overnight.
Three other teenagers — two girls and a boy, all under the age of 18 — were injured in the crossfire. All three are hospitalized. One, a 17-year-old girl, has severe injuries that could threaten her life.
"There is potential that there may be some others involved," Isaac said Monday. "However, we are not actively looking for anybody by name at this point."
Isaac congratulated officers and firefighters who responded to the scene for taking immediate action to stabilize the surviving victims, applying tourniquets to some and putting pressure on their wounds to stop the bleeding so they could be transported to area hospitals. The park remained shut down for investigation through much of Monday morning.
Violence in Smale Park has been a problem since at least 2020, Isaac added, and the city of Cincinnati is still struggling to find the correct response.
"There has to be a solution other than police just managing this," Isaac said. "We don’t want to overpolice, and we don’t want to underpolice. We have to find the correct balance."
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley struck a similar tone in a public statement Monday afternoon.
"What happened at Smale Park last night is unacceptable," he wrote. "While both shooters may be dead and our police are still investigating the incident, three innocent bystanders were shot because of the egregious actions of a few. This is tragic and made even more sad by the fact that the shootings occurred in a group of primarily teenagers. The victims remain in my prayers. Our cops have been diligent about patrolling in parks that attract groups of teenagers—and will continue to do so—but this issue is much deeper and cannot alone be solved with crime-fighting strategies. I have asked the city manager and chief to convene the Manager's Advisory Group to examine causes, evaluate resources and ultimately create a plan to address youth violence in our city. These kids are turning to violence to solve their problems, to retaliate when they feel they have been wronged. This is rooted in problems faced by youth long before they engage in such acts. We need help from the community."
His would-be successors made public statements, too.
"I am sick of teenagers killing each other on our streets," wrote City Council member and mayoral hopeful David Mann in a statement. "I grieve for the families suffering the unspeakable loss. We must redouble our efforts to bring an end to this saddest of violence. We are spending more money this year on summer youth employment. We have more hours open at our recreation centers. We just approved recruit classes for 130 officers. We should take a look at a youth curfew for the rest of the summer. Why do teens even have these guns? Parents must assume responsibility for behavior of their children. All of us have a job to do to correct current trends. This cannot be Cincinnati."
Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval, who also hopes to become mayor, posted his response in a tweet:
My heart is with the victims and their families from last night’s shootings. We need to stop the violent crime, the gun violence and the poverty that is taking the lives of our children.
Please keep the victims in your thoughts as we work together to prevent the next tragedy.
— Aftab Pureval (@AftabPureval) July 5, 2021
Peterson Mingo, a community advocate with Cincinnati police, got to the scene soon after the shooting happened.
Given how frequent gun violence has been in the city in recent weeks, Mingo said, he is pushing for more mental health care for the communities affected. He said the trauma can compound and contribute to the violence.
"We pray for the families," Mingo said. "Because they're definitely going to wake up tomorrow with the feeling of, 'Is this a dream, is it a nightmare, or what?'"
An immediate step Mingo said the city could take would be to impose a curfew.
"There needs to be enforced curfew right now; 10 p.m. curfew would be beautiful," he said. "I've got eight sons, three daughters, 28 grandkids, and I know I'd be going through it also if someone in my family became a victim."
Representatives of Princeton High School, which Watson had attended, released a statement encouraging students and families to contact student services for trauma-related counseling and care.
"Our heart is with Milo’s family and loved ones as they process this tragic loss," wrote Princeton City School District superintendent Tom Burton. "We have a deep concern for the safety and well-being of our students, their families, and those who were impacted by this terrible event. The loss of a student creates a hole in our community that is felt by us all."
Watch the full press conference from CPD below: