DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Gunfire erupted at a Denver park Saturday, injuring two people and sending tens of thousands gathered for an annual pot celebration fleeing the area, police said.
Witnesses, including CBS4’s Stan Bush, said they heard three or more shots and crime tape was around the pavilion where the celebration was being held.
The man and woman who were shot were expected to survive, and police were looking for one or two suspects, said Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson.
A crowd of marijuana smokers expected to swell to 80,000 had gathered at the park to mark the counterculture holiday known as 4/20 on the first celebration since Colorado and Washington made pot legal for recreational use.
Witnesses described a scene in which a jovial atmosphere quickly turned to one of panic just after 5 p.m. Several thought firecrackers were being set off, then a man fell bleeding, his dog also shot.
“I saw him fall, grabbing his leg,” said Travis Craig, 28, who was at the celebration, saw the shooting and said he used a belt to apply a tourniquet to the man’s leg.
“He was just screaming that he was in pain, and wanted to know where his girlfriend was. She was okay. And then the cops showed up real quick, like, less than a minute. They put him on ambulance and left.”
Aerial footage showed the massive crowd frantically running from the park.
A sizable police force on motorcycles and horses had been watching the celebration. But officers didn’t arrest people for smoking in public, which is still illegal.
Ian Bay, who was skateboarding through Civic Center Park when shots erupted, said he was listening to music on his headphones when he looked to his right and saw a swarm of hundreds of people running at him.
“I sort of panicked. I thought I was going through an anxiety thing because so many people were coming after me,” he said.
Witness Kelsey Hanson told CBS4 she heard there was man in the crowd flashing gang signs just before the shots were fired (Watch The Interview)
“I heard there was some gang signs being thrown up ahead of time. I don’t know how accurate that source was but I heard that it was a black man that was holding the gun and that one guy was lying on the ground afterwards and it was pretty crazy,” Hanson said.
Stephanie Riedel, who traveled to the pot celebration from Pittsburgh, said she was dancing with a hula hoop when she heard pops. A man ran past her, then she said the crowd started screaming and running away. She was about 20 feet from the shooting and heard four or five shots.
“I couldn’t make sense of what it was at first,” she said. “We were all having a good time and I was in the mindframe of, we’re here at a peace gathering. I thought it some guys playing.”
Rapper Lil’ Flip was performing when the shootings occurred.
Before the shooting, reggae music filled the air, and so did the smell of marijuana, as celebrants gathered by mid-morning in the park just beside the state Capitol.
Authorities generally look the other way at public pot smoking here on April 20. Police said this week before the event that they were focused on crowd security in light of attacks that killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“We’re aware of the events in Boston,” said Denver police spokesman Aaron Kafer, who declined to give specifics about security measures being taken. “Our message to the public is that, if you see something, say something.”
Nationwide, group smoke-outs were planned Saturday from New York to San Francisco. The origins of the number “420” as a code for pot are murky, but the drug’s users have for decades marked the date 4/20 as a day to use pot together.
Colorado and Washington are still waiting for a federal response to the votes and are working on setting up commercial pot sales, which are still limited to people with certain medical conditions. In the meantime, pot users are free to share and use the drug in small amounts.
A citizen advocacy group that opposes marijuana legalization, Smart Colorado, warned in a statement that public 4/20 celebrations “send a clear message to the rest of the nation and the world about what Colorado looks like.”
“Does the behavior of the participants in these events reflect well on our state?” asked the head of Smart Colorado, Henny Lasley.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
Associated Press writer Catherine Tsai contributed to this report.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)