AUSTIN — A family-friendly theater event at Columbus Park ended in chaos Thursday night after someone fired shots while performers were on stage.
The gunfire happened about 6:45 p.m., just 15 minutes into the Shakespeare in the Parks performance at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave., police said.
Witnesses saw families duck for cover and lay down on the grass to avoid getting shot as other people in the crowd sprinted from the playground where the shooting started.
No one was wounded, but a parked car was hit by gunfire, police said.
The free event saw musicians, actors and dancers performing songs riffing on popular scenes from plays by William Shakespeare, part of a series of pop-up events in parks from Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The shooting started just three songs into the event, said Nicole Miano, who had brought her two children to enjoy the park on a warm summer night.
“They sounded like firecrackers to me. Frankly, I was in a little bit of shock,” she said. “People were running, and there was a lot of commotion. My friend said, ‘Get down, get down.’”
Miano and her kids were watching the Shakespeare performance from the back of the audience near the playground when the shooting started. When she realized what was happening, she had her kids lay down to shield them from gunfire, she said.
A boy with a gun ran nearby, Miano said.
The incident made Miano fear for her kids’ safety and for how they will be impacted growing up around the threat of gun violence. No child should be “traumatized unnecessarily” or have to “experience this because of where they live,” Miano said.
“There’s other events coming up in parks that I have on the calendar. … I’m frankly thinking about whether I will take my kids to them,” she said. “I probably won’t take my kids to the summer dances at Grant Park or Millennium Park because things happen there, too.”
The rest of the show was canceled. Officers arrived at the park shortly after, and they are investigating, a police spokesperson said. No one has been arrested.
Keith Yearman was photographing the performance when he started hearing loud noises he initially mistook for fireworks. It wasn’t until he saw crowds of people scrambling for cover and running from the playground that he recognized the 15 loud bangs he heard were gunshots.
“Fear didn’t strike me in the moment. … It didn’t really register until later. I’ve never been through anything like that before, and I hope never to go through it again,” Yearman said.
Yearman saw staff members for the Shakespeare performance hide behind equipment. He also saw the director waving her hands to stop the show and get the performers to safety.
Yearman snapped a photograph of one of the gunmen running through the park, he said.
“I saw a bunch of people from the audience start to run while others were ducking and laying flat on the ground,” Yearman said. “A few people actually left their things, blankets and folding chairs and things like that.”
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater cancelled two performances scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Ogden Park and Ping Tom Park because of the incident, executive director Criss Henderson said. The organization is working with the Park District to plan future events, and providing support to its company members, Criss said.
“Everyone is safe and no one is injured, but we recognize and are concerned about how unsettling and distressing this was for all involved,” Criss said in a statement. “We remain committed to the neighbors and communities that have made the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks program so dear to our hearts for 11 years. We will be back, and we will continue to create together.”
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