LOUISVILLE — A man who allegedly opened fire into a crowd of protesters here Saturday night, killing a 27-year-old photographer, is in police custody, authorities said. The shooting took place at a park where demonstrators had gathered to protest police brutality and the death of Breonna Taylor.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said a man opened fire from the edge of the protest area at around 9 p.m. Saturday, killing one person before “several people” fired weapons in the park. Fischer said the alleged shooter was wounded and is in custody at a hospital. Authorities declined to identify the man.
Fischer identified the victim as Tyler Gerth. No others were shot at the square, Fischer said. In a statement given to WDRB, Gerth’s family said he was as photographer capturing images of the protests.
“We are devastated that his life was taken was from us far too soon. Tyler was incredibly kind, tender hearted and generous, holding deep convictions and faith,” the statement said. “It was this sense of justice that drove Tyler to be part of the peaceful demonstrations advocating for the destruction of the systemic racism within our society’s systems.”
Activists have assembled at Jefferson Square Park for more than a month to protest police brutality. Video posted online Saturday shows a man in shorts and a tank top aiming a gun in the direction of tents set up in the park and opening fire. Videos on social media show protesters fleeing the area and, in some cases, diving and crouching behind nearby parked cars, tents and trees as shots are fired.
“None of us wanted to see this area of peaceful protest become a crime scene,” Fischer said. He called for the city to unite in the aftermath of the shooting and said that it cannot slow or halt efforts to institute the reforms that protesters are demanding.
“We cannot let one senseless act, let one individual derail that dream, that vision that we have as a city,” he said.
Interim police chief Robert Schroeder said the alleged shooter had been participating in the protests since they began. Schroeder said the man been arrested several times in recent weeks and had been asked to leave the park by other protesters because of his “disruptive behavior.”
Surveillance footage shared by Schroeder at the news conference showed the man in an apparent confrontation with several protesters at the edge of the square before opening fire.
Jasmine Harris, a 27-year-old protester, said she and others were participating in a music video when she heard gunfire.
“All I could hear was: bang, bang. I thought they were fireworks,” she said. She heard four more shots, she said, and saw a man lying on the ground, bleeding.
“It was a very good time, we were all getting along” before the shooting, she said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Maxwell Mitchell, 32, said things were “very happy” in the park Saturday night.
“There was a children’s march. Things were joyous, things were happy, and you know, out of nowhere, this happens. And it turned things completely south,” he said.
Mitchell, who posted video of the shooting on social media, fears the shooting could make it more difficult for the demands of the protesters to be met.
“Everyone as a group has been trying to figure out the best move to get justice, meet those demands that we have not just to achieve justice for Breonna Taylor but for countless black people who have been killed by corrupt police,” he said. “Now this, in my opinion, is really derailing things.”
Early Sunday morning, police announced that while they would continue to allow peaceful protests during the day, they would not permit protesters to stay in the park overnight or erect “tents of any kind.”
The park — a small plaza in the city’s downtown — has become an encampment in recent weeks, with protesters sleeping overnight in tents and stands, handing out food and supplies, and demonstrating against police brutality and systemic racism during the day. On Sunday, activists returned to donate food, clothes, water and toiletries to homeless people in the park who lost their belongings when police cleared the area following the shooting.
Shannon Higgins, 37, was handing out slices of pizza to protesters. “I woke up this morning and I saw that homeless people had lost everything: their tents, their clothes, their food,” Higgins said. “Everything that was set up at the campsite was gone. I just wanted to get up and help serve.
“Now we have to come back together. You have people who were down here in unity, who were living here and found solace here and it all got swept away. Now that it’s all been swept away, we have to rebuild.”
Schroeder apologized to protesters for the way in which the park was cleared of tents and supplies, saying it was not the department’s intention to damage belongings, but many items were “treated in a manner that is less than our standards.”
Anti-violence activist Christopher 2X, who heads the organization Game Changers, said the shooting reflects an epidemic of gun violence that has continued to plague Louisville even throughout the pandemic and recent unrest.
“I would have thought when covid hit that we’d hit the pause button on reckless shootings around here,” he said. “I really thought it was going to peel the deal back. But I was wrong about that.”
Louisville has become a center of protests against police brutality, with demonstrations related to the death of Taylor intensifying and growing after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was killed in her home in Louisville by police after they executed a no-knock warrant on March 13.
At least three officers were involved in the raid, firing into Taylor’s apartment just after midnight. In a lawsuit filed in April, Taylor’s family said Louisville police executed a search warrant at Taylor’s home, looking for a man who did not live there. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who reportedly was a licensed gun owner, shot at officers when they attempted to enter the apartment, and the officers returned fire.
Taylor was shot at least eight times and killed. Authorities have released little information about the killing. It is being investigated by state and local authorities and the FBI.
The Louisville police last week fired one officer involved in the shooting. The city council voted this month to ban no-knock warrants, which allow police to enter a home unannounced. The June 11 measure to ban the warrants is known as Breonna’s Law.