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'It Was A War Zone': Questions Remain After Beatties Ford Road Mass Shooting

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Sarah Delia/WFAE
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Last week, the portion of Beatties Ford Road in front a neighborhood Food Lion in Charlotte was roped off with yellow police tape. Police were collecting evidence, trying to piece together what sparked a mass shooting at the tail end of a weekend that had been full of peaceful celebrations marking Juneteenth.

This week, the police tape is gone. Beatties Ford Road is now a memorial site. Candles, balloons, crosses and flowers are huddled in clusters, objects remembering the four victims who lost their lives. A mobile Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department tower is parked nearby.

"There are a lot of questions that I just feel like we don’t have answers to," said 32-year-old Donnell Washington. "I saw an article and they were talking about 'a massacre,' and that’s pretty much what we should label this as."

His memories of the violence are still fresh.

"I can remember being kneeled under a car and I could just hear the bullets just flying. The shooting lasted a good three through five minutes," Washington said.

Washington, who has helped to organize protests in Charlotte in the wake of George Floyd’s death, was at a cookout at a friend’s house that night. He had been out on Beatties Ford Road on Friday and Saturday for Juneteenth celebrations.

That Sunday during the cookout, the group saw on Facebook that people were on Beatties Ford Road again. They figured they would go check it out.

"I knew when I got here there were a lot of people not from this area that just happened to be here, so that was kind of a red flag," Washington said. "Sunday was just different. The vibe, the energy, everything about Sunday was not what happened Friday and Saturday."

The other thing that was different, Washington said, was the lack of police presence. He noticed police officers out Friday and Saturday, just sort of hanging back in case they were needed.

He doesn’t blame police for the shooting, but he does feel like there is a lack of urgency. More than a week later, there still hasn’t been an arrest. He wishes there would be daily updates from the police department as the investigation presses on.

Washington said he believes police response would have been different if the shooting had occurred on a college campus.

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Credit Sarah Delia/WFAE
A CMPD mobile tower is in the shopping center parking lot off of Beatties Ford Road near where the shooting occurred.

"How do you handle a mass shooting? We know how to handle a mass shooting at malls, schools, we’ve had that," Washington said. "When UNC Charlotte had their shooting last year, you saw multiple agencies responding, but how do you handle a mass shooting in a community? How do you handle a mass shooting on a major road?" 

In press conferences since the shooting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have repeatedly said that despite some 400 people on Beatties Ford Road, it’s been hard to get witnesses to come forward. Washington questions that.

"When I talked to a detective on Tuesday, they said they had gotten plenty of calls, people have been dropping names," Washington said. "You may not have useful information, but you have information. So don’t put (out) that narrative that people in this community are not looking out for their community. Because we are already marginalized enough, we don’t need that narrative out there that, ‘Oh they have this shooting in the community and they don’t want to work with police.’ Because that’s what some people think.

"That’s not what’s going on here. Anybody who was here Sunday is traumatized and more than likely they are willing to work with police because they survived a shooting."

Washington said he had an appointment with a detective last Wednesday but that when he went to the police station, the detective didn’t show. He waited a half hour before he had to go back to work. Washington said he left a voice mail for the detective and hasn't heard back.

"That tells me that your priorities, obviously what I have to say was not of importance to you, or you may have all the information that you need," Washington said. "I don’t know we haven’t had a conversation."

Washington doesn’t believe the shooting was random. He believes it was gang related or involved a hate group.

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Credit Sarah Delia/WFAE
Memorials for victims who died can be seen on Beatties Ford Road.

At one point during the chaos, Washington was in the Food Lion parking lot. He heard family and friends searching for Kelly Miller, one of the victims who died. And that has stayed with him.

"I can hear them, normal voice, you can hear them searching, panicking, and then you hear when their whole body responds to this person is no longer here," Washington said. "And that’s something that I never ever, ever wanted to experience -- to see someone walk up on a loved one that just died, that was just killed senseless."

The other day, Washington attended a balloon release for Miller. At one point, Washington said, fireworks were set off. He had to steady and reassure himself it wasn’t gunshots. That trigger is on his mind with the Fourth of July holiday around the corner. A lot of people are still processing their trauma, he said. He purposely hasn’t gone back and watched the videos that have surfaced on social media of the shooting.

"I knew that it would really haunt me," he said. "It’s one thing to survive it, it’s another thing to survive and go back and see all these bodies. Some of my friends are still trying to … they have nightmares. It was a war zone."

He said he kind of got a glimpse of what it’s like for a solider to come back from war carrying the weight of post-traumatic stress disorder. Washington said he is finding his way through the trauma. He’s talking about it with family and friends. He’s checking in with others who were out there that night. And he’s waiting to hear from the police.

He knows they have a job to do, but he hopes there’s an update soon. And he hopes when they have information to share, they hold a press conference on Beatties Ford Road so the community that has been so impacted by the violence will be able to hear it firsthand.

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