DENVER (AP/CBS4) — Denver police are searching for evidence as they investigate the fatal shooting of a policewoman Sunday at City Park where families had gathered for a free weekly jazz concert.
The officer who was killed has been identified as Celena Hollis, 32, a single mother of a 12-year-old daughter. Hollis had been with the department since 2005.
Police Chief Robert White said investigators have recovered a gun and arrested a suspect in the case, identified as Rollin Michael Oliver, 21, who appeared in court Monday morning. The judge ordered that no pictures be taken and the case file has been sealed.
CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass obtained city records that show Oliver is a known gang member who claims gang affiliation. He lists a home address in northeast Denver.
A part of City Park remained closed Monday while police searched for more evidence and Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered flags be flown at half staff.
At least three shots were fired shortly after the jazz band playing on a lake-side pavilion stage finished, sending waves of people running through park grounds. Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Hollis was shot in the head and died at a hospital.
Multiple Denver police sources have told Maass the shooting was result of a gang confrontation and the suspect fired around four to five shots at other gang members, but hit Hollis. The sources told Maass the gang confrontation in the park was preceded by 24 hours of suspected gang violence in northeast Park Hill.
Anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts says outside his office at 33rd and Hudson there was a suspected gang shooting Saturday night, and another one Sunday night. One man was wounded in each. He says Denver’s gang problem is as bad as ever.
“Anybody who says there’s not a gang problem; that’s just stupid,” Roberts said.
More than 1,000 people were at the Jazz in the Park concert, the fourth of 10 shows scheduled for this summer in the annual series that draws families and people of all backgrounds to one of the city’s more popular summer events. The mayor said late Sunday that the concerts should continue.
“We will not surrender what we consider special in this city to anyone,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.
Nakira Doss, a jazz singer herself, said she hopes the series continues. The 28-year-old mother was at the show Sunday and sitting near the stage with her children, ages 4, 5 and 7, when she heard at least two shots. As people ran past, she said told her children to “get on the ground” and then she laid herself over them.
“I’m trying to show them music, but at what cost,” she said, nodding toward her own children.
City Park is one Denver’s most famous and sprawls across several hundred acres east of downtown. It holds the Denver Zoo, Museum of Nature and Science, as well as ponds, trails and recreational fields.
After shots rang out, scores of people ran from the northwest side of the pond and stage area, confusing crowds on the south side of the pond who were still lingering over conversation and picnics in lawn chairs and blankets. Someone announced from a loudspeaker on stage that the park was closed and told park goers to leave from the south side.
Samuel Bell, 19, of Denver, said he was in the parking lot looking for a space for his scooter, which police later cordoned off with yellow tape. He said he heard several shots.
“We just arrived at the park. It was crowded, it was looking fun,” Bell said. “And then ‘pa- pa-pa-pa’ outta nowhere.
“We just ducked,” Bell said. “We pulled off in enough time to get away. It was crazy.”
He said he saw police officers administering CPR. He estimated he was about 10 to 20 feet away from where the officer was shot.
“As a city, we must come together and wrap our arms around this brave officer’s mourning family and loved ones. We must come together to combat such senseless and needless violence. As one community, we must stand united and hold true to safeguarding our streets, our parks and our neighborhoods,” Hancock said.
Monday afternoon a community rally was held at City Park to honor Hollis. More than 100 members of the community, legislators and fellow officers all showed up to celebrate her life. Next Sunday there will be another community rally at City Park at 5 p.m. calling for an end to violence.
DENVER POLICE DEPARTMENT STATEMENT ON OFFICER HOLLIS
Officer Celena Hollis transferred to the Denver Police Department on October 3rd, 2005 after serving as a police officer with the Detroit Police Department. She served as a patrol officer in District Two and was a member of the Street Crime Attack Team (SCAT). She used her Critical Incident Training skills to de-escalate several hostile and potentially violent incidents, including successfully assisting an Iraqi war veteran who suffered from PTSD. Officer Hollis has been recognized numerous times for her outstanding performance and service to the community.
Officer Hollis served as the President of the Denver Police Department Black Police Officers Organization and was a resident of Denver. She is survived by her twelve year daughter and the rest of her family. She was an amazing person with an engaging smile who was well liked and respected by her colleagues and the community she served. She will be missed.
A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, June 30, 2012, at 1100 hours at – Denver First Church of the Nazarene
3800 E. Hampden Avenue
Englewood, CO 80113
Interment follows at – Fairmount Cemetery
430 S. Quebec Street
Denver, CO 80247
Donations for Officer Hollis’ daughter and family can be made to – Celena Hollis Memorial Fund
Account Number 23012705
Rocky Mountain Law Enforcement FCU
700 W. 39th Avenue
Denver, CO 80216
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