Gunshots ring out during Monroe fireworks, hours after Illinois mass shooting

MONROE, N.C. — Witnesses told Channel 9 about a scary moment Monday, when gunfire rang out in a crowd full of families during a Fourth of July fireworks show in Monroe. Dozens of extra officers were on duty at the time, Monroe police said.

It happened just hours after the tragedy near Chicago, where a July Fourth parade turned into a crime scene. On Tuesday, investigators released new details, saying the accused gunman in that case planned the mass shooting for weeks and tried to hide his identity.

In Monroe, police said officers were already on high alert even before the fireworks show began Monday night. Monroe police told Channel 9′s Erika Jackson the department staffed 50 additional officers in and around the park after the tragedy in Illinois just a few hours earlier.

Jordon Willard said he sensed right away that what he was hearing between the bursts of fireworks across the railroad tracks wasn’t part of the show.

“We heard about six or seven consecutive gunshots,” he said. “And it seemed like there were bullets that were hitting, ricocheting off of either the tracks or containers on the tracks.”

What started as a night of fireworks and family fun ended frantically around 9:45 p.m., when spectators heard gunshots.

“We got our kids, got our stuff, our car was right next to us. And so we put everything in the car, and we fled,” Willard said. “And that was what everybody else did as well.”

Cristina Love told Jackson she saw officers move into action within seconds.

“It was just, it was almost surreal. Like in your mind,” Love said. “You knew that something had happened, but it’s like, ‘no, that couldn’t be here. What I heard wasn’t real.’”

The Fourth of July is already one of the police department’s busiest nights of the year. City spokesperson Pete Hovanec says officers believe those gunshots were from what he called “celebratory gunfire.”

“This is not the first time that we’ve had shots on Fourth of July in close proximity to where we were doing our fireworks, and it gets old and it’s dangerous,” he said.

Hovanec said he’s not aware of anyone who was hurt in the shooting. But his frustration with the situation was obvious.

“If you shoot it up in the air, it’s gonna come down,” he said. “You shoot it straight, it’s eventually going to land. We’re just fortunate that nobody was hurt at this time.”

But witnesses like Willard are still shaken up -- and fed up.

“My wife and I were talking about how every time we leave the house, we pray and ask God to protect us and keep us safe,” Willard said. “And we’re just thankful that that we were kept safe last night.”

Investigators are working to find out who fired the gunshots. The police department told Jackson officers collected fingerprints and found shell casings in the area. They also said the person responsible could be charged with a crime.

“As a city and as a community, we should be caring more about one another,” said Monroe Police Chief Bryan Gilliard in a news release. “The July 4th holiday has long been a time to come together and celebrate the birth of American independence. The City of Monroe encourages all of its residents to come together and enjoy these festivities each year. Last night, unfortunately, we experienced some unlawful and harmful behavior by a small fraction of folks in attendance.”

(WATCH BELOW: Law enforcement increases presence amid Fourth of July celebrations)

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