Witnesses to shooting are silent
Officials unsure if death is isolated incident
Witnesses to a deadly weekend shooting are clamming up about the crime, Lawrence Police said Monday, but the violence appears to have been imported from out-of-town.
“It is very frustrating to know we have perhaps as many as a dozen witnesses … who are not talking to us,” Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin said during a news conference.
He said up to 200 leads in the case were taking investigators out of Lawrence – and out of state.
“Most of the leads,” Olin said, “are not in the city of Lawrence.”
The shooting happened just after 2 a.m. Sunday near the Granada, 1020 Mass., where a hip-hop show had just finished.
Bullets hit and killed a Topeka man, Robert Earl Williams, 46, who was across the street from the Granada. Another victim, a 22-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man, also was hit by bullets near the club. He was flown by helicopter to a Kansas City hospital, where he remained Monday.
Police backed away from Sunday’s initial description of the shooter – a 6-foot black male wearing a puffy jacket seen in a tan 1990s General Motors vehicle – and said they had no specific suspect in the case. Olin said investigators do not have “a good handle” on the shooter’s identity.
Obituary information for Williams was unavailable Monday. A check of public records revealed he served prison time during the early 1980s for a Shawnee County conviction on an aggravated assault charge, and had been arrested several times since then.
The shooting came amid reports police had seized a half-dozen guns in downtown Lawrence since Jan. 1, when shots were reported in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street.
City officials said they weren’t sure whether Sunday’s killing was an isolated incident, or part of a growing problem with nightlife violence.
“I’m trying to find out if this is a single incident,” Commissioner Mike Amyx said, “or if we’re looking at something else.”
Investigators revealed new details about the shooting Monday.
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Olin and Lawrence Police Capt. Dave Cobb said the incident began after the Upset Records show at the Granada, when two dozen people gathered on the street to wait for performers and the announcement of an after-hours party.
A half-dozen people soon started fighting.
“Several individuals were armed with guns,” Olin said.
“Guns came out. Shots were fired. Everybody runs,” Cobb said.
Williams was across the street when he was hit. The 22-year-old man escaped down the alley and into the back of the Granada before receiving aid.
Cobb said police had interviewed the 22-year-old about the shooting.
“I think from the preliminary interview, he doesn’t know who (the shooter) was,” Cobb said. “He was trying to get away.”
There was no known connection between Williams and the 22-year-old, Olin said, and neither was believed to be armed. Police said they didn’t know whether gang involvement played any role in the incident.
Investigators recovered two bullets at the scene.
“More may have been fired,” Olin said.
Cobb said investigators would travel to Missouri and Colorado to contact participants in the Upset Records show.
“We need a little better information,” he said.
Neither Mike Logan, who owns the Granada, nor Doug Compton, who owns the building, returned calls for comment Monday.
Olin said that police “have a history in the 1000 block of Massachusetts,” and officials said the department had responded to 422 calls in that block during the past six months – most of them not related to violence.
Officials noted they had seized handguns during six different incidents downtown since the beginning of the year, but cautioned against suggestions that downtown is becoming more dangerous.
“I don’t know if you could make any conclusions from that,” Lawrence Police Sgt. Dan Ward said of the gun seizures.
But those numbers, along with Sunday’s killing, have the attention of city commissioners.
“I do believe that it is a wake-up call that we need to re-examine a variety of issues downtown,” said City Commissioner David Schauner, adding that police staffing and the number of downtown clubs are chief among those issues. “I don’t think we can just brush it off and say stuff happens.”
Ward declined to discuss downtown police staffing in detail, though a departmental press release said that five officers quickly converged on the shooting scene.
“We do put what we believe is an adequate number” of officers downtown, he said. “We rethink our plans on a daily basis.”
Amyx said City Hall might call a summit of bar owners and other downtown merchants as part of a broader effort to understand challenges police face downtown.
“No one,” he said, “is taking this lightly.”