Shooting may mark end of roller rink

December 26, 2008 7:43:34 PM PST
A 16-year-old boy was killed when gunfire erupted during a private Christmas party at a roller skating rink in Union, sparking a chaotic stampede of hundreds into the night. Skate 22 was hosting several Christmas parties when multiple fights broke out, and then shots were fired at 12:30 Friday morning.

"It was rented out for a private party," Union County Prosecutor's Office spokesman John Holl said. "At some point before the shooting, there were two groups of people fighting, words were exchanged and shots rang out."

Teenager Diamond Watkins says the boy was shot in front of her. She said screaming people stampeded toward the doors to get out and some were trampled.

More than 100 frightened roller skaters, between the ages of 13 and 25, rushed out of the rink, police said.

One person, 16-year-old Jean D'Haiti, was shot and pronounced dead in the parking lot. Several others, either shot or trampled, were rushed to local hospitals.

Some inside the rink said there was a stampede as hundreds fled through the doors in the minutes immediately following the shooting.

Many skaters were held for hours inside the building as police searched to make sure the gunman was not still inside one of the numerous individual party rooms.

They began being released to worried family members shortly before 5:00 a.m.

No arrests were immediately made.

Police were investigating the possibility that several armed men fled the rink in the chaotic rush following the shooting.

They closed a large area around the skating rink around Route 22 to search for evidence.

Union township officials said there had been previous incidents in the parking lot outside the rink, but declined to give specifics.

Township Business Administrator Frank Bradley said there were supposed to be two licensed police officers inside the rink, and that the township had met with the rink's owner - whom he declined to name - in the past over safety concerns. Bradley said the township had tried to regulate the rink's hours of operation but the effort was rejected by local courts as unconstitutional.

"We met with the owners and their attorneys to set the ground rules, and that resulted in an understanding that there were safeguards in place to prevent any violence," Bradley said.

"A tragedy occurred as a result of something that happened in this establishment," said Union Mayor Clifton People told the Newark Star Ledger. "It will be closed all this weekend; it's a crime scene. And it will not be allowed to reopen until the issues are resolved. My recommendation is that the license be revoked."

An emergency meeting was scheduled for 10:00 Sunday morning in the main meeting room of Town Hall to discuss whether the entertainment license that allows Skate 22 to operate should be revoked.

The National United Youth Council, an Elizabeth-based anti-violence advocacy group, called for the city to shut the rink down, citing a long history of violence there.

"How many body bags do we have to fill before we come together and do something?" said the group's youth coordinator, Anthony Hall. "Where can we find a safe haven for our kids?"

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Some information from the Associated Press.

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