Luke Nozicka, Robert A. Cronkleton, Glenn E. Rice, And Katie Bernard
The Kansas City Star
When the man walked in, Jose Valdez remembered his face.
He had caused issues before at Tequila KC, a bar on Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. Valdez, one of the bartenders Saturday night, wanted no more trouble. Around 11 p.m., he refused to serve him. The man responded by throwing a cup at him, he said.
It took four people to kick him out, witness Shay Celedon recalled. He started a fight with at least one person outside, she said.
Celedon went home, worrying something bad would happen.
It happened shortly before 1:30 a.m., just after Valdez announced last call.
The belligerent patron returned with another man, walking through the door with the sign that said no guns allowed inside. Both started firing handguns, filling the air with smoke. Valdez said he thought the place “was going to cave in.”
Police said four people were killed and five injured in a bloody rampage that left shocked relatives searching for loved ones and trying to process how the unthinkable had unfolded.
Four men were pronounced dead inside, police said. Two of the victims were in their 20s, one in his mid 30s and another in his late 50s. Authorities have not released their names.
The five injured victims were rushed to hospitals with unspecified injuries. Two were released by mid-morning Sunday. Those who remained were in stable condition, police said.
Investigators reviewed surveillance video of the bar at 10th Street and Central Avenue, once called the Blue Rose. They released six photographs of the suspects, who remained at large Sunday evening.
Detectives said they have yet to determine a specific motive. They believe the shooting was targeted, but not because of race, said Officer Tom Tomasic, a spokesman with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department.
Whatever the reason, it ignited terror.
“It’s a pretty small bar,” said Tomasic, who estimated that 40 people were inside at the time. “You have two guys come in, start shooting, people are just running. People are just running wherever they can.”
Michael Barajas heard a series of bangs; they went off so fast that at first he didn’t think they were gunshots, he said. In an attempt to figure out what was happening, Barajas focused on all the hands he could see, trying to determine who was pulling the trigger.
Then he felt a bullet hit his shoulder. He ran outside and texted his fiancée.
“I’ve been shot,” Barajas said.
Inside, a woman put pressure on her fiancé’s gunshot wound, Celedon recalled. She gave him CPR but he died in her arms.
“She held her husband until he took his last breath,” Celedon said.
Celedon said her friend and the victim had hoped to marry next October and were working through details like the music and what to wear. The couple expected to get more serious about plans after her niece’s Quinceañera in December. They wanted to have a child.
“They were working on their future,” Celedon said. “He was trying to give her a life she deserved.”
The bar usually employs an armed security guard, but that person did not show Saturday night, Valdez said.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” he said, his voice choking up. “How can you go into a place full of people and just start shooting?”
‘We lost some good people’
Hours after the shooting, more than a dozen people watched as firefighters arrived at the crime scene, blocked off by red and yellow tape. They hosed away blood on the pavement outside, some of it from at least one of the surviving victims who had fled to a nearby park.
Some cried and hugged; others lit cigarettes.
One woman broke down after speaking with a detective; she screamed as a man kept her from falling to the ground. Another man walked away from a group, placed his hand against a brick wall and threw up.
Three of the people killed were regulars whose parents also drank at the bar, Valdez said. It was the first time for the fourth man slain; Valdez said he was from out of town, having a drink and just enjoying himself.
“We lost some good people, young people,” he said.
Around 9:30 a.m., about eight hours after the shooting, the dead were placed on stretchers and put into the coroner’s white minivans. Someone had placed a red rose on one of the shrouded bodies; a folded American flag rested on another.
David Alvey, mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, called the killings tragic. He spoke with victims’ families, but didn’t say much.
“Just simply to say I’m sorry,” he said.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said just the day before, he visited with a physician at a local hospital, where they talked about trauma in the region’s emergency rooms and the toll it takes on staff. He said his “heart goes out” to the victims.
Politicians from across the country offered similar condolences. Those included Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, of California.
“Not again,” former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke wrote on Twitter. “My heart is with all who are impacted by this tragedy.”
A national gun safety advocate, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said on Twitter that the shooting occurred less than two miles from where she’d once lived in Kansas City, Kansas.
Locally, the killings shook the neighborhood.
David Thevo, who lives nearby, said he couldn’t go back to sleep, worried about himself and his neighbors. He placed his face in his hands near the scene.
“Too much death and too much killing,” Thevo said.
The homicides marked the 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th slayings so far this year in Kansas City, Kansas, according to data kept by The Star. At least 170 people have fallen victim this year in the metro region.
The shootings also came hours after a Wyandotte County Sheriff’s captain, Chris Arnold, was shot and killed in his home Saturday night in Kansas City, Kansas.
‘Home away from home’
Juan Ramirez said his nephew, 29-year-old Alfredo Calderon Jr., was among the victims. Calderon was an innocent bystander who had “nothing to do with it,” Ramirez said, a tear running down his face.
Calderon left behind a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, Ramirez said. While grieving Calderon’s death, the family was also searching for another relative, he said Sunday morning.
“I don’t wish this upon anybody,” he said.
Toni Maciel, 36, said she knew seven of the nine people shot, including two relatives who were injured and a friend’s fiancé who was slain. He had planned to baptize Maciel’s 5-month-old niece, she said.
Maciel told the same story as other witnesses — that one of the shooters had an altercation at the bar and returned with another man. Some friends and relatives of the victims said that showed premeditation.
She hears about shootings often, she said, “but once it hits home, it’s devastating.”
Like others gathered at the crime scene, including a bartender who was scheduled to work Sunday morning, Maciel called the business a community bar where people of all ages gathered. People there know each other, she said.
“This was a home away from home, you could say,” she said. “But after this, I don’t know what would happen with our community.”
Maciel said she knows the wife of one of the alleged shooters. During last Thursday’s karaoke night, he became violent toward his wife, and Maciel suggested he leave.
Maciel’s not sure she can go back. For now, she called on the shooters to turn themselves in, to give the victims’ families some closure and peace of mind.
“These people don’t know what they did,” Maciel said. “They took a brother, a dad, a son, somebody. It’s not right.”
By Sunday afternoon, loved ones were already planning vigils.
Valdez, the bartender, hugged his own children early Sunday morning when he got home. It was the second deadly shooting at a bar in the Kansas City area he has witnessed, he said.
“Pray to God I’m here,” he said.
The Star’s Tammy Ljungblad contributed to this report.
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