RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said authorities prevented a planned mass shooting at the city’s Fourth of July event at Dogwood Dell despite being told by his own department that a specific location was “unknown.”
During a July 6 press conference, chief Smith told reporters that a tip from a “hero citizen” led to an investigation that thwarted a planned shooting targeting the event held at the Dogwood Dell amphitheater in Byrd Park.
“A subject who I’m referring to as a hero citizen picked up the phone, overheard a conversation that there was a mass shooting being planned here in the Richmond of Virginia at our Fourth of July celebration at the Dell,” Smith said.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney mentioned Dogwood Dell before Smith spoke, saying a number of people had visited the amphitheater to celebrate the city’s fireworks celebration and that the effort from the city’s police department saved many lives on July 4.
But records obtained through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request show Smith was alerted by a city police spokesperson minutes before addressing the media that “the location was unknown.”
8News submitted open records requests to Richmond police for information related to the alleged plan, and received records of talking points provided to Smith, and others, before the 2 p.m. press conference on July 6.
The Richmond Police Department has faced increased scrutiny over its response to the alleged plan since a city prosecutor said there was no evidence pointing to any specific target. After the city’s top prosecutor contradicted the police’s account, Richmond police chief Gerald Smith told reporters the department was “closing all discussion about the planned Fourth of July mass shooting.”
After saying he was shutting down talk about the planned shooting, Smith acknowledged that the department’s communication over the response could have been better in an interview with 8News. But he doubled down on Dogwood Dell being the target, saying he determined it was the location from “experienced knowledge.”
“I determined it was the Dogwood Dell from the facts; from the tipster; from the investigation; and from my 30 years of experience,” Smith said during his interview with 8News. “This is what we do every day.”
Documents provided by Richmond Police Department through an open records request
Richmond Police arrested two men — Rolman Balcarcel-Bavagas and Julio Alvarado-Dubon — and seized assault rifles, a handgun and rounds of ammunition from a residence on Columbia Street after receiving an anonymous tip from someone who had overheard plans for a mass shooting in Richmond during the holiday.
According to an affidavit obtained by 8News, the anonymous tipster had contacted RPD after Balcarcel had allegedly shown him “two long guns with metal magazines and a red dot sight,” and “a longer higher caliber gun with a two-leg kickstand.” In the same affidavit, RPD reported the tipster also alleged that Balcarcel had connections to “Los Zetas,” a Mexican drug cartel.
City prosecutors dropped the initial charges against both men so federal prosecutors could pursue charges against them. Neither the city nor prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia have filed charges connected to an alleged mass shooting plot, but additional charges could come.
Claims about a thwarted plot in Richmond came after mass shootings in other states and one in the city on July 4 involving six victims. Seven people were killed and several others were injured in a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in suburban Chicago following deadly mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo.
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