‘Emptied his clip’: Teen accused of firing into crowd, killing woman at First Fridays

‘This would not be the Kansas City we want to live in,’ Mayor Quinton Lucas speaks about shootings

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke about two homicides on his first two full days in office. Jackson County prosecutors filed charges against an 18-year-old accused of killing Erin Langhofer at a First Fridays event.
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Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke about two homicides on his first two full days in office. Jackson County prosecutors filed charges against an 18-year-old accused of killing Erin Langhofer at a First Fridays event.

An 18-year-old man was charged Saturday with second-degree murder, accused of firing a bullet that killed an innocent bystander attending an arts event in downtown Kansas City late Friday night.

Deon’te Copkney, of Kansas City, was also charged in Jackson County Circuit Court with unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action in the shooting death of 25-year-old Erin Langhofer, according to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker

The gunfire erupted just after 10 p.m. near 18th and Main streets, when the area was still crowded with thousands of people from First Friday activities in the Crossroads Arts District.

Capt. Tim Hernandez, a Kansas City Police Department spokesman, said officers were initially called about a fight near 18th and Walnut streets. Off-duty police officers were working nearby for the event.

Officers saw people congregating in a parking lot between Main and Walnut. Then they heard gunfire, according to police.

Witnesses described hearing several shots. People scattered in different directions.

Ken DeBenedictis, who was working at his Monk’s Roast Beef food truck, ducked for cover as he heard people scream. DeBenedictis and his employee “didn’t see anything except for people running for their lives,” he said.

As officers made their way to the shooting scene, they found Langhofer, who had been shot in the head near the food trucks. She was not involved in the fight that broke out, according to charging documents filed in court.

Langhofer was rushed to a hospital, where she died within an hour.

After the gunshots, officers chased three people seen running north on Walnut Street from 18th Street. One of them, later identified as Copkney, allegedly stopped running and dropped a 9 mm handgun before lying on the ground, according to the charges.

Two others who had been running in the same direction also were taken into custody, police said. No charges have been filed against them.

Copkney allegedly told detectives he was the only person to shoot. The gun was determined to be the same one that fired the shell casings found near the crime scene, according to the charges.

In an interview with detectives, Copkney allegedly said he brought the loaded gun downtown with him. He was with his friends when a fight broke out between him and a man in another group, he told police.

Copkney said the man “jumped him” near the food trucks, court records showed. When the fight broke up, the groups took off running in opposite directions, according to court documents.

While he was running, Copkney allegedly said, he turned around and fired the gun “into the air” and “emptied his clip,” according to court records.

Copkney told police he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

Two vehicles parked in the area were struck by bullets. They had damage to their sides, a bumper, a window and a windshield.

In charging documents, a detective wrote he believed Copkney posed a “serious risk to the safety of the community.”

“He deliberately fired nine shots horizontally into a crowd of persons until his magazine was empty,” the detective wrote. “Copkney is described by one of his associates as a hothead, who ‘doesn’t let things go.’”

The prosecutor’s office requested a judge set Copkney’s bond at $500,000 cash. He remained in the Jackson County jail Saturday.

Copkney did not yet have an attorney listed in court records who could be reached for comment Saturday.

Deon’te Copkney
Deon’te Copkney Jackson County Detention Center

‘Lost a good one’

Langhofer had a blossoming career as a therapist who advocated for survivors of domestic violence, her family said.

Her job, Peters Baker said, “was a huge part of who she was.”

Langhofer’s family told Peters Baker she loved advocating on behalf of survivors at Rose Brooks. In a statement, Susan Miller, the domestic violence center’s CEO, said employees were shocked by news of the killing.

Gathered Saturday morning outside Langhofer’s family home in Overland Park, Langhofer’s close friends and neighbors recalled her radiant smile and wheezy laugh, which they said often caused others to cackle. One described her as “vivacious.”

Langhofer graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in social work in 2016, her friends said. The only time she wasn’t smiling was when KU lost a game, they joked.

“She was a gift,” said Scott Kormann, a neighbor who knew Langhofer since she was born. “She wanted you to be a better person.”

Erin Langhofer
Erin Langhofer Courtesy of the family

Kormann’s daughter, 26-year-old Liz Kormann, was about to ask Langhofer to be her maid of honor at her upcoming wedding, she said. The two grew up together; Liz Kormann doesn’t know a life without Langhofer. She was always there for Kormann after her mother died, she said.

“The world lost a good one,” said Liz Kormann’s fiancé, Danny Dolan, 26. “We’re lucky to have had her as long as we did.”

Her friends Hope Farnsworth and Kate Westberg, who knew Langhofer since kindergarten, said Langhofer was the person that held their friend groups together. She made strangers feel like life-long friends, they said.

Friends described Langhofer’s death as a senseless tragedy. News of the shooting shocked her loved ones, one of whom said they were numb and didn’t even realize it.

“I don’t understand how something so bad could happen to someone so beautiful,” Westberg said.

In a statement read by family friend Michael Eagan during the news conference, Langhofer’s parents said they were devastated by the death of their daughter and the impact it will have on others, including the “life of the young man who pulled the trigger.”

Guns and violence

During the news conference at Kansas City police headquarters, officials condemned the latest act of gun violence in the city, which has recorded 84 homicides so far this year, according to data kept by The Star.

“Again, we’re here because of another senseless act of violence in our city,” Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said. “Last night, we had an innocent female shot in the head at a Crossroads event, which is usually a great event in Kansas City enjoyed by many, not only in Kansas City, but to the surrounding area.”

While frustrated by the killing, Smith took a moment to praise the two officers who pursued the suspected shooter.

Peters Baker told reporters she wanted justice for Langhofer’s family as well as the victims of unsolved homicides this week in the city.

Those include the slayings of two men who died from gunshot wounds July 28 in the 2100 block of Monroe Avenue, and the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old man found outside a Wendy’s near 31st and Main streets.

It also includes the killing of 62-year-old Michael Pittman, who was found lying in the street Thursday near 32nd Street and Indiana Avenue.

Peters Baker called on witnesses in those killings come forward.

“It is still the most powerful way for me to make a case,” Baker said. “I’m really begging the public to step up and tell us more about what they know.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas said he was as heartbroken to learn about Langhofer’s killing as he was to read about Pittman’s. He offered his condolences to the families and thanked Kansas City police investigators for their work.

“There’s no work more important than avoiding future tragedies like these,” Lucas said. “I, and we, have work to do to get more in our community, particularly our young people, to stop resolving conflicts with guns and violence.”

Lucas said he said he hopes in a year or two from now, officials can say fewer people are being killed in Kansas City.

“This is a problem that our city cannot stand,” said Lucas, who was sworn in as the city’s new mayor Thursday. “I do not want a third homicide on my third full day as mayor.”

Kansas City’s new mayor Quinton Lucas, along with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, second from right, and Kansas City Police Department Chief Richard Smith, first from left, spoke at a press conference Saturday afternoon, regarding the shooting that killed an innocent bystander Erin Langhofer at the First Friday arts event in the Crossroads District. Shelly Yang

‘Unbelievably tragic’

Jeff Owens, vice president on the board of the Crossroads Community Association, which organizes First Fridays, said this month’s event brought in “one of our bigger crowds” of the year.

Thousands of people walked through downtown for Friday’s event, which typically features regional and national artists and live entertainment each month.

After the shooting, Owens said, the organization has been planning meetings with city officials and the community to get feedback and review what occurred. The organization issued a statement about the shooting Saturday, saying its goal is to maintain a safe, welcoming and creative environment.

“Words can’t express how saddened we are by the tragic loss of life during last night’s First Friday event,” the statement said.

In the nearly 20 years of events in the Crossroads, Owens said, organizers have seen just a handful of minor fights.

“It’s been a joyful experience for so many years,” Owens said. “This is just unbelievably tragic.”

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.
Kaitlyn Schwers covers breaking news and crime at night for The Kansas City Star. Originally from Willard, Mo., she spent nearly three years reporting in Arkansas and Illinois before returning to Missouri and joining The Star in 2017.