May 24, 2021
Fairfield Township, New Jersey Shooting Press Conference Transcript May 24
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Fairfield Township officials held a press conference on May 24, 2021 to discuss the shooting that took place at a birthday party on Saturday. Read the full transcript of the news briefing speech here.
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Governor Phil Murphy : (03:01)
Director Joe Derella, and his colleagues. Oh, Joe went to the right, I apologize. Fairfield Township, Mayor Benjamin Byrd, and Bridgeton mayor Albert Kelly, among other elected officials. I’ll leave it to the Attorney General Colonel Callahan and Prosecutor Webb-McCray to provide the specifics on the ongoing investigation into Saturday night’s horrendous and horrific shooting incident, and what we know at this moment. We will then take a few questions, but I do remind everyone that this is an active investigation, and… All hell’s breaking loose over there. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but some details may not yet be ready to be publicized, so we ask for your patience and forbearance in that regard. At this time, two people who were in attendance at the house party on Saturday night are deceased. 12 others were injured by gunfire. Some were thankfully minor injuries, and those people have been released from area hospitals, while others continue to fight for their lives. Many others who were in attendance will carry the emotional scars of Saturday night, and we are working to ensure that they have the mental health and Social Service support they will need to process and move forward. I think in particularly the staff and volunteers from Hopeloft here in Cumberland County for their efforts in this regard. Everyone impacted remains in our thoughts and prayers today.
Governor Phil Murphy : (04:31)
This was a birthday party. A birthday party is supposed to be a joyous event, not a target for those hell bent on inflicting harm on a community. We urge anyone with information into the identities of those responsible for this incident to call the state police Bridgeton Station. Pat, I’ve got: 856-451-0101. 856-451-0101. Or to reach out to the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office online at www.njccpo.org/tips. Again, njccpo.org/tips. Any tips can be kept anonymous, but all tips will be useful to the investigation.
Governor Phil Murphy : (05:15)
I must thank law enforcement at all levels for their swift response to the shooting and for their diligence of the search for any and all persons responsible. I also thank the tremendous EMS first responders who tended to the wounded, and shepherded them to care and safety. We are lucky to have tremendous and dedicated first responders throughout our state, including Joe right here in Cumberland County. But let’s get something out of the way quickly. What we saw here in Fairfield is a microcosm of the scale of gun violence we see elsewhere in other communities in our state, and across the country. We are at the point where this kind of horrific scene is almost part of our daily. It has become commonplace. If there is one thing we can never normalize, it is senseless gun violence. I’m proud of the work our administration has undertaken over the past three plus years to enact and enforce strong gun safety laws, we’re a leader in the nation in that regard, but… There’s a big, “But,” this is a nation awash in guns, and we’re not an island. We are not immune, as was proved two nights ago. There are still too many people with easy access to guns, who should never have access to a gun.
Governor Phil Murphy : (06:31)
The state troopers who arrived on the scene didn’t know if someone was waiting in the woods to ambush them as they responded to the calls, neither did the paramedics who came to tend to the wounded. Thankfully, by that time, the shooting had stopped. This time. We cannot allow there to be a next time. As I said yesterday, this incident only strengthens my and our resolve to ensure New Jersey continues to lead the nation in gun safety, and to be a model for others. We cannot normalize what we saw. We cannot put our heads in the sand and just say, “This is the price we pay in a free society.” I will never accept that. We can never accept that. This community will never accept that. No community in our state or nation should, and we will not stop fighting to protect every community. Again, anyone with information should reach out to the state police’s Bridgeton Station. The number again is 856- 451-0101. Again, 856-451-0101 or the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, njccpo.org/tips. With that, please help me welcome the Attorney General of the great state of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal.
Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal: (07:49)
Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Governor. I’m sorry to be joining you under these circumstances this morning. As you noted, we are in the early stages of an active and ongoing criminal investigation. The New Jersey State Police, under the direction of Colonel Pat Callahan and the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae, are leading this investigation with the support of our many federal, state, and local partners. As you all can imagine, given the size of Saturday’s party in Fairfield Township, and given the number of victims, there’s a significant amount of evidence to process. But based on our preliminary assessment, here’s what we know: this was not a random act of violence. This was a targeted attack. We can confirm that two people are dead. Kevin Elliott, age 30 of Bridgeton, New Jersey, and Asia Hester, age 25, also of Bridgeton. We offer our condolences to their family and to their loved ones.
Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal: (09:04)
I can also confirm that we’ve recovered multiple firearms and shell casings from the scene, and that we’re working with our federal partners to determine where these guns originated from, and whether they can be linked to other recent acts of violence in the area. In addition, one individual has been arrested, and we fully anticipate the possibility of additional arrests as this case progresses. The sad reality is that we’ve developed a playbook for events like this one. We unfortunately have a proven and a thorough process and set of protocols to investigate the scourge of mass shootings. We have a playbook for responding to scenes like this one. We have a playbook for collecting evidence, for notifying next of kin, and for bringing those responsible to justice. These protocols reflect not just the professionalism of our state’s law enforcement agencies, but also as the Governor said, the pervasiveness of our country’s gun violence problem. We can, and we must continue to tackle this problem head on, and we must treat it like the public health crisis that it is.
Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal: (10:20)
We recognize that we must simultaneously address the root causes of violence, while also taking swift action against those who break the law. And while we have made important strides in this effort in New Jersey, events like Saturday’s shooting, remind us how much further we have to go. Before I turn it over to Colonel Callahan, who will provide additional details about the incident, I’d like to take a moment to thank our law enforcement officers who are working around the clock to figure out what happened, and who’s responsible for this deadly tragedy. I want to especially thank our state troopers who first responded to Saturday shooting. While hundreds fled that party, while hundreds of party goers ran from danger, our state troopers ran towards it. They did that like they do each and every day. Their bravery, their hard work, helped to quickly restore order, and allowed medical staff to treat the wounded.
Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal: (11:27)
Their actions also remind us how lucky we are to have such a well-trained and professional state police force and how much we rely on them to keep us safe during moments of crisis. With that, I want to turn it over to Colonel Pat Callahan, the Superintendent of our New Jersey State Police, for additional details of this investigation. Pat?
Colonel Pat Callahan: (11:50)
Good morning. Thank you. General, Governor, Prosecutor. I’ll just go through some details with regards to this shooting. Earlier on Saturday evening, over the weekend, our troopers responded to a party at 7 King Drive in Fairfield Township, regarding noise complaints. It is our belief that that party ultimately broke up around 11 o’clock at night, and some of those party goers dispersed, and some of them then ended up at 1029 East Commerce Street in Fairfield. Shortly after 11:30 on Saturday night, we had a trooper who was just completing a motor vehicle stop in the area, and heard what he thought was fireworks or gunfire. That trooper immediately responded as did troopers from both Port Norris and Bridgeton Station. And at the same time that was happening, the 911 dispatchers started receiving phone calls with regards to the shooting. And what we learned as the Governor and Attorney General discussed, that this was a birthday party that had turned deadly, with a total of 14 people shot, two which succumb to their injuries.
Colonel Pat Callahan: (13:03)
Many of those who attended the party and even those who had been shot had already left the scene when most of law enforcement responded. They were and continue to be treated in local hospitals. Since Saturday evening, and continuing this time, state troopers, [inaudible 00:13:18] Criminal Investigations Office, Major Crime South Unit, Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, State Police Crime Scene Investigations and members of the Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory have responded to investigate. I’d also like to thank Bridgeton Police Department, the ATF, and although they have not supported the effort, one of the first people I heard from was the FBI Special Agent in charge, George Crouch, offering any and all assets from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition to processing the crime scene and doing an inventory of all the ballistic evidence that the Attorney General mentioned, witness interviews are still being conducted, digital evidence is being recovered, search warrants are being executed, and forensic evidence is being analyzed. A number of firearms have been recovered from various locations, and as the AG stated, one individual has been arrested, and we do anticipate additional arrests. At this juncture to take, even through some additional details, I introduce Prosecutor Webb-McRae. Prosecutor?
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (14:28)
Good morning, everyone. I am Jennifer Webb McCray, the Cumberland County Prosecutor, I would like to thank our Governor, our Attorney General and our Colonel for all of the support they’ve given to our community during this very trying time. I’d also like to thank my Commissioner Director Joe Derella, Mayor Ben Byrd, Committeemen David Gonzalez and Tommy Clark, and Mayor Albert Kelly for the support that they’ve given during this time. On 5/22/21 in the late evening hours, 14 lives were changed forever. Two individuals lost their lives, and 12 more individuals were shot, with several remaining in dire condition. We’ve mentioned the names of the victims who are deceased, however, there are 12 other individuals whose lives have been changed forever. To preserve the integrity of the investigation and to protect the privacy of the shooting victims survivors. We are not releasing their names at this time. However, I can tell you that the victims range from 19 to 35 years of age, and all live within our county. They include both men and women.
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (15:43)
We mourn the loss of life and the senseless violence. We send condolences and prayers to the 14 sets of family and friends, which obviously amounts to 100s of people who have been affected by this tragedy. While we mourn for those affected, we remind the community that we need their help in bringing those responsible to justice. It has been estimated that there were over several hundred people at the subject party. We are appealing to anyone in the community who was at the party, anyone who may have taken pictures or video, anyone who may have witnessed suspicious activity after the shooting, to come forward and share that information with law enforcement.
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (16:36)
We all have a role to play in restoring safety and security to our community. It starts with bringing those who are responsible for these senseless acts of violence to count for their actions. Anyone with information may communicate it through our tip portal, which can be accessed at www.njccpo.org/tips. Once again, they may share it at that tip portal, and it may be shared anonymously. I too would like to thank all of the investigators, and all of the cooperating agencies who have been working tirelessly since this event occurred. I can report, as a result of the cooperation from the community, the investigation has led to one person being charged and taken into custody. Yesterday on Sunday 5/23, Kevin K Dawkins, age 36 of Commerce Street with a Bridgeton mailing address, was arrested and charged with, unlawful possession of a weapon, a second degree offense, unlawful possession of a large capacity magazine, a fourth degree offense, certain persons not to have a weapon, a second degree offense, and possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, a second degree offense. Mr. Dawkins has been lodged in the Cumberland County Jail, the state will move for detention pending trial.
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (18:06)
In closing, I want to remind everyone that there are resources for anyone who is experiencing trauma as a result of this incident, members of the public may reach out to the State Mental Healthcare’s Hotline at (866) 202-4357 from 8:00 to 8:00 PM, seven days a week, or go to their website at www.njmentalhealthcares.org. We also have a Credible Messenger Program in Cumberland County, which has been interacting with those affected by this tragedy. And finally, we have an army of chaplains, many of them crisis intervention trained, who are stand at the ready to help individuals in our community who are suffering from trauma. If anyone needs additional help, please reach out to our office at (856) 453-0486, and we will point you in the right direction. You will be getting a copy of the charges before you leave today.
Governor Phil Murphy : (19:11)
Jennifer, thank you. Pat, Gurbir, thank you. We’ll take a couple of questions.
Speaker 5: (19:15)
Governor, do you believe that there is any [inaudible 00:19:22] or connection to gang violent? And also, does this mean that there is a shooter or multiple shooters that are still on the loose? What do we know about how many it is [crosstalk 00:19:26]-
Governor Phil Murphy : (19:26)
I’m going to defer to the folks closer to the ground.
Speaker 6: (19:31)
I would just say at this point, due to the nature of the ongoing investigation, that that’s not confirmed at this point with regard to your question around gang affiliation.
Speaker 7: (19:46)
Do we know if Dawkins was the only [inaudible 00:19:46] shooters, or were there other shooters [inaudible 00:19:46]?
Governor Phil Murphy : (19:46)
Jennifer, do you want to?
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (19:48)
At this time, Dawkins is charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, and possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose. However, numerous interviews are being done, and we’re still putting pieces together. That may come later.
Speaker 8: (19:59)
How many suspects have they identified so far?
Governor Phil Murphy : (20:02)
Speaker 8: (20:02)
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (20:02)
We’re not going to talk about the details of the investigation, because as you can imagine, it’s an ongoing investigation.
Speaker 9: (20:12)
[inaudible 00:20:12] party, and how old was that person turning?
Governor Phil Murphy : (20:18)
Could you give that to us again?
Speaker 9: (20:19)
Was the person at the home having the birthday party at that residence-
Governor Phil Murphy : (20:19)
Where they at the home?
Speaker 9: (20:23)
Was the birthday person, the one who [inaudible 00:20:30]?
Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae: (20:32)
I don’t know the answer to that question right now, but I would not comment on that because this is an ongoing active investigation.
Speaker 10: (20:37)
Was the shooting targeted towards the individuals who were victimized, or at the house?
Governor Phil Murphy : (20:43)
My guess is, I can preempt someone else say this, but given it’s an ongoing investigation, we’re going to hold off on answering questions like that. I think you’re going to get the same answer, I think in fairness to you all to probably any question you ask. So I think we’re going to shut it down here. I know Jennifer, Gurbir, and Pat and their teams, we’ll make sure as will our office, that we’re getting you information as we feel that we can responsibly get that information to you. Keep the victims and their families in your prayers, and again, we’ll get back to you with any information as we feel comfortable sharing it. Thank you all.
Speaker 11: (21:19)
Are you concerned about violence though, this summer?