Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KSJD Local Newscast - July 5, 2024

Thursday night’s massive Fourth of July fireworks display by the City of Cortez ended abruptly because of gunfire in the middle of the celebration.

According to the Cortez Police Department, a 17-year-old has been arrested in the incident and is being transported to the Grand Mesa Youth Services Center in Grand Junction.

The police department said a fight broke out in the skate park in Parque de Vida around 9:35

p.m. Thursday, and gunshots were fired up into the air. No one was injured, although there were mistaken reports on social media late Thursday about shooting victims.

As of Friday afternoon, police were still seeking the perpetrator, who is believed to be a juvenile.

Assistant Police Chief Andy Brock told KSJD the police were receiving numerous tips and leads.

“We’re getting a lot of help from the public.”

Anyone with information, photos, or videos related to the shooting is asked to submit them on the Crimewatch website or mobile app (CortezPD.org) or contact dispatch to have an officer respond, 970-565-8441.

Brock said no casings were found on scene, indicating the weapon used might have been a revolver. A handgun was reportedly recovered when the 17-year-old was arrested.

A large number of police officers were present in the park during the fireworks display, he said.

An overdose that occurred near Safeway, a few blocks from the park, had taken some personnel away from the park, but Brock said three officers were promptly on scene at the skate park.

Police were unable to catch the shooter, who fled immediately.

“The perpetrator left running on foot, over the hill,” Brock said. “There was a whole herd of people running in that direction.”

Longtime area resident Alan Klein was viewing the fireworks display from near the skate park, which sits on the southeastern edge of Parque de Vida. He told KSJD he was a little north of the

skate park, looking toward the launch site for the fireworks.

“I was on the bank sloping down to the rec center and Parque de Vida,” he said. “There’s a high view, a good view, a great angle to catch the finale.”

Before the fireworks began, he said, probably six or eight kids were using the skate park. “A lot

had those little bikes. They were riding them and doing tricks, catching air and curling their bikes down. They were pretty good.”

Klein said he was near a family with several kids, who were possibly 12 to 15 years old when the trouble began during the middle of the show. “One said, ‘There’s a fight.’ We turned around

because there was a crowd gathering. There was a crowd standing up on the other side of the

skate park – not focused on the fireworks.

“One of the kids in the family said, ‘Somebody has a gun there.’ I didn’t know how the kid knew. The next thing we knew, pop! pop! pop! and we all started running. Everybody started running. I was one of them. I don’t think I ran very fast,” he added with a laugh. “We were going

down the bank and below the elevation [of the skate park].”

The weapon sounded like a handgun, he said. “I think I heard four or five pops. I couldn’t tell if it was automatic.”

Klein said he thought it was a smart decision to end the fireworks at that point. “The city’s decision to cancel was very wise.

“I was right near where the shots were coming from. Everyone in our area absolutely knew they were leaving. People were all heading to their cars. Even if the fireworks had continued, we wouldn’t stay. We didn’t need to be running from gunfire and watching fireworks at the same time.”

Cortez Director of Parks and Recreation Creighton Wright said it was clear that the display would have to end.

“Organically, people on their own made the decision that the event was over,” Wright said.

In addition, officials quickly decided to halt it. The fireworks show is put on by the Cortez Fire Protection District and the city, working closely with the Cortez police. After the shots were fired, Wright said, “We had two conversations and we decided we were not going to move forward with the fireworks.”

The annual celebration draws an estimated 5,000 people or more to Cortez’s parks system, Wright said. “That’s my best guess within the mile or so radius including Veterans Park, Centennial Park, Parque de Vida and some of the surrounding areas.”

People left the parks swiftly and without incident.

“I’ve never seen so many cars get out of there so efficiently and quickly,” Klein said. “Red Rocks [the concert site] could learn from how quickly we got out of there.”

Klein said after the initial shock of hearing gunfire, he felt fairly safe after running down the

embankment away from the skate park. “It would have gone over our heads,” he said.

He would have no compunction about attending next year’s fireworks, he said. “This wasn’t like terrorists or the shooter in Las Vegas. Some punk kids got into a fight and it happened to be on July Fourth.

“It was an obscene disgusting event that marred a beautiful evening. It’s a black mark on Cortez. That’s the sad part. I didn’t feel we were really in danger, but the one young daughter of the family seemed pretty scared.”

On Friday morning, the parks were fairly clear of trash and debris. Wright said the entire parks team, which consists of 12 people, goes out to clean up in the morning.

“They are amazing,” said Kelly Podner, PIO for the city.

Wright said no decision has been made yet about what to do with the unused fireworks, which are stored by the fire department.

“We very briefly started the conversation afterward, but CFPD and the city decided it was premature,” Wright said.

Wright said there are occasional incidents at the skate park. “They run the gamut of things involving young people, from fights to verbal disagreements,” he said. “It’s the primary hangout spot for teenage kids in town. But weapons don’t come out that often or aren’t reported that often.”

Brock said there have been a few complaints at different times about someone with a gun at the skate park. “There will be a fight and will be a gun pulled at the skate park and other places.”

The city is planning to paint over the various paintings and scribbling on the bowl of the skate park, Wright said, and keep painting over anything new that appears. “It’s mostly unsightly. From time to time there is vulgarity that shows up, bad or inappropriate language, but mostly I’m concerned about just the general look.

“Historically there were murals painted on it but right now without a budget for more murals, I just want to get rid of the junk that’s there.”

Wright said looking at the bigger picture and the long term, he would like “to change the perception and the mentality around the skate park and the parks in general.”

He said there tends to be some negative perception of the skate park in particular and the parks as a whole.

“There are a fair bit of visitors that come through our parks,” he said. “Parks are part of their perception of the community. The Welcome Center is in Veterans Park.”

But changing those negative feelings “will take some pretty concerted actions on our part,” Wright said.

Stay Connected
Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal, and was the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.