As crowds spilled out of the bars on Massachusetts Street downtown around closing time early Sunday morning, Taylor Guess was among those suddenly terrorized by gunfire.
Guess, 22, and her boyfriend were on the sidewalk near 11th and Massachusetts when they heard it.
“It had to have been some kind of automatic weapon,” said Guess, of St. Joseph. “It was going boom, boom, boom, boom.”
The gunfire that erupted at the crowded intersection left three people dead and two wounded.
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Killed were Leah Elizabeth Brown, 22, of Shawnee, and Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20, and Tre’Mel Dupree Dean, 24, both of Topeka.
None of the three was enrolled at the University of Kansas, according to Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a university spokeswoman.
The two other victims — one of them a cousin of Dean, relatives said — were being treated at hospitals for injuries that were not life-threatening. A medical helicopter responded to the shooting.
Police, who have released no suspect information, asked for help identifying the shooter or shooters. They said Sunday night that they “believe the shooting stemmed from a physical altercation that occurred near the northwest corner” of 11th and Massachusetts.
The shootings brought a tragic end to a lively night in Lawrence. University of Kansas basketball’s Late Night in the Phog had drawn a big crowd at Allen Fieldhouse. Downtown streets filled with people going to bars, restaurants and concerts, including the #ASSJAMZ event at the Granada Theater, 1020 Massachusetts St.
It was not far from there, according to witnesses, that the trouble started with a fistfight near 11th and Massachusetts about 1:40 a.m.
Then, gunshots — at least 20 of them, as Interim Police Chief Anthony Brixius told the Lawrence Journal-World. Police heard the shots from their headquarters near the intersection. Responding officers and medical personnel found the five victims.
Brown’s mother, Gretchen Brown, said Brown had been out with a friend at Brothers Bar & Grill just before the shooting. The friend called Gretchen Brown to say that as the two women left the bar, they saw a fistfight going on nearby. Then they heard gunfire, and Leah Brown collapsed.
The gunfire drove Guess of St. Joseph to duck for cover in the alcove outside the entrance of a nearby business. She and her boyfriend were joined by some 20 people who crammed into the space to hide from the shooting.
As the shooting seemed to be getting closer, Guess and others decided to make a run for it, fleeing south down Massachusetts Street. Running among the crowd, they stepped around people who’d thrown themselves down on the sidewalk.
“People were panicking and pushing and falling on each other,” Guess said.
When the gunfire finally stopped, Guess and others returned to the area and saw ambulance crews tending to the victims, who were scattered on the street. Blood trails extended the length of the block.
Investigators closed two blocks of Massachusetts as they collected evidence Sunday morning. Yellow crime scene tape was stretched across storefronts, and dozens of white evidence markers dotted the scene.
Dean and Henderson were in Lawrence attending the #ASSJAMZ event, according to relatives.
They were with a group that included Dean’s sister and the cousin who was wounded, according to Dean’s oldest brother, T’Juan Dean.
He said he thought they were innocent bystanders to the melee that broke out among a crowd at 11th and Massachusetts.
Dean’s grandmother, Birdie Dean, said the family is trying to piece together what happened.
“It is unreal,” said Birdie Dean, who lives in Kansas City, Kan. “It’s taken all of the family by shock. It sounded like he was in the wrong place.
“Tre’Mel was really a sweet young man who minded his own business,” she said.
The family had lived in Kansas City, Kan. for a number of years but moved back to Topeka, where Dean’s mother was raised. Dean was planning to leave Topeka and start a new life in California
Henderson had recently become a father, relatives said.
Henderson’s mother, Novel Carter, said her son had recently been released after being incarcerated and was aiming to turn his life around. He pleaded guilty in September 2016 to two counts of aggravated battery and one of criminal discharge of a firearm, court records say.
Ten months ago, Henderson’s girlfriend gave birth to his first child, a girl.
“(He was) trying to change around for his baby he loved so much,” Carter said.
Patrick Frazell, a 23-year-old Lawrence resident, said he saw the aftermath of the shooting. As he left the nearby Jimmy John’s near Ninth and Massachusetts streets, he heard sirens and saw what looked like a body covered by a white sheet behind the crime scene tape.
“It’s pretty frightening to see in Lawrence,” Frazell said. “I live two blocks from here. So to have this happen where I lay my head at night, like this is going on right where I sleep.”
The shooting came on the same night as KU basketball’s annual Late Night in the Phog, where Grammy-nominated rapper Lil Yachty performed for about 20 minutes at Allen Fieldhouse. After the event, KU guard Devonté Graham told reporters Lil Yachty was going to perform later that night at the Granada.
Maddy Bailey, 24, of Lawrence had been at a bar downtown and left about 30 minutes before the shooting. There were “a lot of excited, hyped-up people downtown,” she said. “It was just an extra-crazy night.”
News of the shooting had Bailey’s co-workers at a downtown ice cream shop “freaking out,” she said.
William McGuinness of Lawrence was downtown listening to a Latin music band Saturday night and left about 12:30 a.m., before the shootings. He learned about the killings Sunday morning.
“I was just very sad,” he said. “Lawrence is a very nice place. I think things like this happen everywhere nowadays. Sadly, that is what we live with now.”
Only minutes after police took down the police tape at the shooting scene, two KU students came and unwrapped the cellophane from a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Chad Uhl and his friend Emma Anderson placed the bouquet at the base of a small tree in front of the Aladdin Cafe, 1021 Massachusetts St., where blood had only just been washed away.
They said some of their friends were on Massachusetts Street early Sunday around the time bullets began to fly. They only became aware of what the noise and commotion were about when sirens broke the night and police descended on the area.
“I was moved by it,” Anderson, 22, said of the killing. “I thought flowers are a good symbol of peace and the absence of violence.”