Neighbors rallied Wednesday evening to advocate for improved safety in their Oak Park community following a Tuesdaynight shooting that erupted near youngsters participating in Little League games at McClatchy Park.
The Tuesday night shooting of an 18-year-old man reportedly followed an argument involving several people in the parking lot at the park. The victim, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds, was found at an area hospital. His injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, said police spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein.
Heinlein said neither the motive nor the number of people firing shots were known Wednesday.
McClatchy Park, in the heart of the Oak Park neighborhood, has had a reputation as being unsafe through the years. City officials have tried to change that, using $2.8 million in state grants to spruce up the 15-acre, tree-shaded area in 2014.
In response to the shooting, a Facebook page called McClatchy Park Community Picnic Dinner invited Oak Park residents to bring their dinner and gather at the park at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Andre Wilson was among those who came. He has lived all his life in Oak Park and the shooting, he said, does not reflect the character of the people who frequent the park on a regular basis.
“My daughter comes to the park,” he said. “I tell her, ‘This is your park. They built that playground for you.’ ”
But the kind of violence that occurred Tuesday threatens everyone, he said, noting that “bullets have no names.”
A man coaching at one of two baseball diamonds in the park, said in an interview Wednesday morning that his players were about to bat when gunfire erupted. The coach asked not to be identified because he feared possible retribution.
“I just heard pop, pop, pop, pop,” the coach said. “I looked up. I thought, ‘This can’t be happening.’ ”
He gathered his nine players behind the backstop and told them to get on the ground.
“There was just panic,” he said. “There were parents in the stands. One lady had a baby. There were grandparents. But at the time I was more concerned about the kids. That was my first instinct.”
The spectators in the stands took cover and the coach looked over at other teams playing at a diamond even closer to the shooting. There, people were scattering, he said.
His players were shepherded away from the area by an adult. After calm was restored, the players got home safely.
The coach, whose team comes from outside Oak Park, said a police helicopter crew spoke by loud speaker to neighborhood residents, telling them to stay inside.
Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents the Oak Park area, issued a written statement to the community Wednesday calling the shooting “horrific and sad.” He said his office has been working with law enforcement to gather information about the incident, saying he would share that information as soon as it is available.
“I will also be meeting with the Police Department and other top city officials in the coming days to develop an immediate course of action, as well as to develop a plan to address some of the systemic negative activity within the community, that may have or have not contributed to the shooting,” he said.
Once known as a place frequented by drug dealers, McClatchy Park, one of the city’s oldest, has undergone a transformation in the past few years as the city joined neighborhood activists to add features that would draw more people, including a disc golf course and a weekly farmers market.
The grant-funded improvements also included a new picnic area, basketball court, jogging track, tennis court and skate park. The playground was rebuilt with elements that evoke the Joyland amusement park that operated on the Oak Park site in the early 1900s until its closure in 1927.
Several people who gathered at the park Wednesday evening called for more regular police patrols of the area. “Police don’t come here unless there’s a tragedy,” Wilson said.
Marie Bunn, who said she has lived in the area 50 years, suggested closing the gate to the parking lot at the park at night could help reduce criminal activity.
Toni Clark, whose grandson plays Little League at the park, said he was not there when the shooting occurred Tuesday, but she worries about his safety. Clark said she would like the city to do a better job of maintaining the park and monitoring activities.
“The young kids in their saggy pants, drinking or doing drugs, that’s not a good impression on little kids,” she said.