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Night at the ballpark turns into chaos after shooting at Long Leaf Park

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It started off as a regular spring night at Long Leaf Park, formerly Hugh MacRae Park, with little league games taking place and people practicing their swings at the batting cages. But that calm evening soon turned into chaos and confusion after gun shots rang out from the basketball court, just yards away from the baseball fields.

From all accounts it was a packed night at Long Leaf Park. Andrew Walden was there watching his son’s little league game. It was pretty much business as usual, but then around 7 p.m. Wednesday violence erupted.

“Our game was winding down and I heard a loud crackle and pops, I looked over my left should because I was watching the game here, I thought it was firecrackers and then I could see flashes and then just a mob of people running in that direction,” Walden recalled.

The next few moments quickly turned into panic.

“I came running to this gate over here, it was locked but I ripped it open and then it was just chaos — people screaming ‘guns, get down, run,’” he said.

So he ran onto the baseball field, around right field, found his son, and took off with him out through the opening in the fence at center field. He took shelter with his son and others in the bathroom facility behind the field where he called 911. Within minutes, he was hearing sirens.

It’s not an experience many people ever go through, and the emotions of the night were intense.

“It was sad because there were so many people in distress and people that were separated from their family, they were looking for their kids, they were looking for their parents. There were kids crying, women crying,” he said.

When asked what went through his mind, Warden admitted that his own mortality came to mind.

“It’s incredible, you know. You just want to keep living, you want to survive. The thought of ‘this could be it’ goes through your head,” Warden said.

Officials with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office believe at least two people exchanged multiple rounds of gun fire at the park. No one was hit and no injuries were reported. Warden says it’s an act of God that no one was hurt since there were so many people at the park.

Lt. Jerry Brewer is the public information officer for the sheriff’s office but on Wednesday night, he was acting in a different role — he was just a dad at the park with his son. They were warming up at the batting cages when they heard the reports from the shots.

“We were waiting to go onto the next field once that game ended, and the boys were just warming up and heard the first three shots and my optimistic side wanted to say it’s just fireworks, but I knew better,” he said.

Brewer said he guesses the batting cages are no more than 200 yards from the basketball court, and soon enough he heard bullets hitting the tree branches above him. That’s when he got his son and led them to safety.

“When the other shots rang out I just took off. I grabbed him and we ran that way, we actually ran to the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course,” he said.

An event like this can have a traumatic impact on those involved, especially children, but Brewer said his son is doing just fine. Obviously, he will have to address the incident and talk about it.

“I don’t want to stop him playing baseball, we’re not going to let the bad things stop you from the good things, so we’ll have to talk about that,” Brewer said.

On Thursday, NHC Sheriff Ed McMahon announced that there will be increased patrols at parks and two deputies will be present during ball games.

If you have any information on the Long Leaf Park shooting please contact NHCSO at 910-798-4162 or submit a crime tip here.

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