FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP, N.J. – A manhunt was underway Sunday for a gunman who opened fire at a crowded house party, killing two people, wounding 12 more and shocking a quiet, rural community 50 miles south of Philadelphia.
State Police, called to the scene just before midnight Saturday, said they arrived to find the bodies of a 30-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman. One of the wounded partygoers was hospitalized in critical condition, police said in a statement.
On Sunday, police with dogs were patrolling the perimeter of the expansive property. Fairfield Township Mayor Benjamin Byrd Sr. was at the scene Sunday, where tents and chairs were toppled around the yard. Byrd said he had little information on the shooting.
“Nobody knows when someone’s going to come out of the woods with a gun,” Byrd said.
John Fuqua told NBC10 that family members were at the party and his nephew had to run for cover when gunshots rang out from the woods.
“My nephew said he was having a good time and next thing all he heard was shooting and he was running for his life,” Fuqua said. “He got on the ground, he had to crawl (after) he stepped over a dead body.”
Aerial views of the scene showed a large, tree-shrouded house with debris strewn all around it. Gov. Phil Murphy, who said the party had drawn hundreds of people, described the incident as a “horrible mass shooting.”
“No community should ever experience what occurred last night in Fairfield,” he said. “We urge anyone with information to step forward, so those responsible can be brought to justice.”
Fairfield is a South Jersey community of about 6,000 on the Delaware River. The shooting is under investigation by New Jersey State Police, as well as Cumberland County and local law enforcement.
A pastor at the church across the street from the shooting scene heard the gunfire. The Rev. Michael Keene of the Trinity AME Church said he heard what sounded like fireworks before realizing they were gunshots.
“If you’re going to a party why do you need to take a gun?” Keene told WPVI-TV. “If you’re there to have a good time why do you need a gun with you? That means you’re expecting trouble.”
Community leaders say the gathering was a 90s-themed birthday party attended by hundreds of mostly young people. Melissa Helmbrecht, of the HopeLoft Community Center, told the TV station the community has had a lot of challenges “and we’ve had a lot of tragedies.” She said several members of the community center were at the party.
“I’m just worried for our friends, our family, our employees. Over the coming days we’re going to have a lot of pieces to put back together,” she said.
Murphy said the investigation was ongoing and that those responsible will be brought to justice.
“Let there be no mistake,” Murphy said. “This despicable and cowardly act of gun violence only steels our commitment to ensuring New Jersey leads the nation in passing and enforcing strong and common-sense gun safety laws.”
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va.