Sunday, May 4, 2003

Fountain Square shooting alarming

Man wounded; bystanders duck

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Friday night shooting on Fountain Square - the heart of Cincinnati's downtown - has a business concerned that this latest crime will be its demise.

A stray bullet from the gunplay that left one man injured and more than 40 people scrambling for cover shortly after 11 p.m. struck the glass fa┴ade of Rock Bottom Brewery, a restaurant on the square.

"My concern is that it's going to kill my business," said Eric Yax, Rock Bottom's manager. But, "I don't know what (police) can do" beyond around-the-clock patrols.

Cincinnati officials were left to strategize Saturday about how to handle the shooting, which could be considered a wake-up call for the businesses that make the downtown tick.

Fountain Square is one of Cincinnati's most public spaces. People mill here every lunch hour, crowd its edges on warm summer evenings and cross its concrete as they rush to meet their friends for social gatherings nearby or after the theater or concerts.

But, about 11:20 p.m. Friday, gunfire shattered the square's calm.

Witnesses reported hearing the gunfire and then turning to see the shooter and his victim - Antonio Owens, 26, of Millvale - run from the square.

Owens was found in an underground garage. A .38-caliber revolver, which was most likely not the weapon used in the shooting, was discovered nearby, Cincinnati Police said. Owens had two bullet wounds in the abdomen and was taken to University Hospital. The hospital has not been able to provide a condition.

"It was like pop-pop-pop-pop-pop and then everyone's ducking for cover," said a 54-year-old Silverton man, who didn't want to provide his name because no arrests have been made.

"This is right on Fountain Square. This is more than just a shooting. This is violence into the heart of the city on a Friday night.

"That is unbelievable, that someone could bring a loaded revolver right on Fountain Square (and) shoot up the place. What's going on with this city? Are we out of control? This thing shouldn't be glossed over. This is a manifestation of this cancer that's growing."

According to Cincinnati Police, an argument between Owens and another man led to the shooting. Police swarmed the square. A Metro bus was used to take witnesses to police headquarters for questioning.

Police have a suspect in custody. But no arrests have been made.

Cincinnati officials were saddened, frustrated and angered Saturday to hear that a shooting had occurred on Fountain Square. Beefing up patrols is always an option but what, they wonder, can they do about preventing an argument between armed men.

That kind of incident, they concurred, can happen anywhere in the city.

"The potential is there for two guys to get into an argument or violent confrontation anywhere in the city or the county," Cincinnati Police Lt. Kurt Byrd said.

City Councilman David Pepper said that the solution is a combination of police visibility and faster response times in lieu of getting guns off the streets.

The underlying problem, he said, is there aren't enough people milling around downtown Cincinnati at night. If the city could draw the crowds that New York does, these problems would be less likely to occur.

Here, "you can have months of progress and one incident like this will worry people," he said.

"At the same time, you do have this type of crime occur in suburbs. (But) we have to keep looking for ways (for the police) to be more visible so people feel safe downtown and throughout the city."

Councilman David Crowley understands that innocent bystanders could have been hit Friday night. But he feels driven to walk through Fountain Square. He wants others to know that it's safe.

"I will not hesitate," he said. "We can't give up on the center of our city. We can't let the criminal element take that away from us."

Mayor Charlie Luken was out of town and could not be reached for comment.


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