NIAGARA FALLS — Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
The four friends were just hanging out, standing on the sidewalk on the north side of Welch Avenue, along the side of the Mark’s Food 2 deli. Then, at around 10:20 p.m. Thursday, gunfire rang out.
Neighbors said the staccato burst sounded like automatic weapons fire, maybe even a semiautomatic AK-47 rifle. It was the same sound witnesses had reported hearing the night before in the 2000 block of Walnut Avenue, when Jahlil Rose was shot to death.
Investigators believe one or more gunmen stepped out of the shadows, from the south side of Welch Avenue, and opened fire on the unsuspecting group of three men and one woman standing across the street. The hail of bullets, with muzzle flashes splitting the darkness, hit or grazed all four victims.
One man suffered bullet wounds to his chest and abdomen. He was placed in a car and driven to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
Doctors at NFMMC were able to stabilize the man for a transfer to the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, where he underwent emergency surgery. On Friday afternoon, the unidentified victim was listed in critical condition.
Two other victims, another one of the men and the woman, had also been wounded. Falls Police patrol officers, who rushed to the area after a report of “multiple persons shot”, immediately begin to render aid to those victims.
Both victims were later taken to ECMC to be treated for their wounds, which were described as non-life-threatening, and they have since been released.
The third man in the group, identified by police as Nivon Smith of the Falls, age and address unavailable, ran from the area as officers continued to arrive on the scene. Officers said they believe that Smith fled because he was the subject of an arrest warrant stemming from an Aug. 26 shooting, in the area of 19th Street and Welch Avenue, one of dozens that have plagued the Cataract City this year.
Police said they were able to take Smith into custody a short distance from the shooting scene. After apprehending Smith, officers discovered that he was suffering from a graze wound to his buttocks.
Investigators also recovered a loaded handgun from Smith.
Police took Smith to NFMMC for treatment of his wound and then brought him back to police headquarters to be booked on charges related to the Aug. 26 incident and a count of second-degree criminal possession weapon for his possession of the handgun recovered on Thursday night.
The Aug. 26 shooting was the third in 24 hours for Falls police, at that time.
Patrol officers said they responded to the intersection of 19th Street and Welch Avenue, at around 3:50 p.m. for multiple reports of “shots fired.” At the same time, officers also responded to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center where staff said a gunshot victim was being treated in ER 1
The victim, identified only as a Falls man, told the medical center staff that he had driven himself to the hospital after being “wounded in a shooting.” His vehicle, which was found in the 600 block of 10th Street, had multiple bullet holes.
Investigators at the crime scene said they located three spent shell casings outside the corner convenience store there. Security cameras at the store captured video of the shooting.
The video reportedly shows a male suspect, now identified as Smith, on a black mountain bike, wearing a blue shirt, black shorts, and blue and white shoes, firing at the victim.
That victim’s wounds were not considered life-threatening.
Detectives said they were still trying to determine a motive for Thursday night’s shooting. They declined to say whether they believed it might be related to a spate of shooting incidents in the city in the last five days.
Crime Scene Unit detectives spent hours collecting evidence, including a large number of spent shell casings, from a crime scene that stretched more than half a block down Welch Avenue and spanned both sides of the street.
Investigators from the Falls police, and other assisting agencies, spent much of the day Friday canvassing the area in a search for witnesses who may have seen the shooting or surveillance and security cameras that may have captured the attack on video.
The brazen shooting took place just blocks from where a vigil for the city’s latest murder victim had taken place. Family and friends had gathered at Walnut Avenue and 20th Street earlier in the evening to mourn the death of Jahlil Rose.
Rose, 20, of the Falls, died in a hail of gunfire in the 2000 block of Walnut Avenue around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday. Detectives said Friday that they are continuing to coordinate with local and state law enforcement partners to investigate both Rose’s murder and the Thursday night shooting.
In response to the surge in shootings, Falls police have said they expect to increase patrols in the city and the presence of law enforcement in identified “hot spots.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Friday’s edition of the Niagara Gazette incorrectly stated that a vigil was taking place for the victim in Wednesday night’s fatal shooting.