Anthony Davis said he had just parted ways with an old friend at the Brownsville Old Timers Day block party when he heard a woman warn that a fight was about to break out.
Dominique Jefferson said he spotted a man reaching into his pants and thought the stranger was going for a gun.
Nearby stood Jason Pagan, a 38-year-old reputed member of the Bloods street gang who had gotten out of prison six months earlier after serving time for a gun charge.
Seconds later, .
The shooting also wounded 11 other people, jolting a city where violence has declined but the police say gang feuds have that have killed and wounded more than a dozen bystanders this year, including a 7-year-old. Investigators were looking for at least two people linked to Saturday’s shooting, but had made no arrests as of Tuesday evening.
The gunfire started a few minutes before 11 p.m. after partygoers had sung “Family Reunion” by the O’Jays and had begun filing home from the Brownsville Playground, at Hegeman and Christopher Avenues. Some in the crowd used canes, walkers and wheelchairs. But younger groups of people were just arriving and congregating on the playground, witnesses said.
Friends had been inviting Mr. Pagan to the block party in Brooklyn for years, they said, and on Saturday night, he finally had agreed to stop by on his way to another gathering.
“I gave him a great big hug,” said Raven Fason, who described herself as a close friend of Mr. Pagan.
Witnesses told the police that Mr. Pagan, 38, got into an argument with two men — one in a button-down shirt and the other in a white shirt and dark shorts, who was seen holding a gun.
Mr. Davis, 55, a retired coach for the Police Athletic League, said he heard a woman’s voice warning, “They getting ready to start.” Before anyone could run, he said, the shooting started.
“All you heard was pow-pow-pow-pow-pow,” he said. “I turned back around to head to where my friend was. I took about two steps and I got hit in the back.”
The flash of gunfire lit up Mr. Pagan’s face, Ms. Fason said, and then the shooter, who was hard to see in the darkness, turned the gun on people who were fleeing. “He started shooting into the crowd,” she said. “All I see was the flashes going off.”
Someone fired back, possibly Mr. Pagan, the police said. Shell casings from the scene indicated at least two weapons engaged in crossfire. One firearm was recovered.
Tony Bonet, 44, said he heard two initial shots — “pop, pop!” — followed after a pause by a barrage of shots. “We saw people dropping in front of us. It was like something out of TV,” he said.
Pandemonium broke out. “They were running every different kind of way,” said Michael Thomas, a retired police officer who was near a performance stage on Hegeman Avenue. “I was afraid for the people that couldn’t run, people who had canes, wheelchairs, babies.”
Investigators said several of the victims — who ranged in age from 21 to 55 — had gang ties, including Mr. Pagan, who they believe was a member of the Bloods. He was released on parole in January after he was caught with a .40-caliber handgun in 2016, and law enforcement officials said he was a suspect in a previous shooting.
“There’s a lot of information coming in, but it’s still very preliminary,” Dermot F. Shea, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said on Monday.
A list of the victims’ injuries provided by the police suggested a worse tragedy was narrowly averted. Two of the surviving victims were shot in the head and six were struck in the torso, according to the list.
One of the bullets hit Daniesa Murdaugh in the back as she fled. Doctors told her they believed that somehow the slug had lost enough velocity — perhaps after ricocheting off her bra strap — to prevent it from entering her body, she said. “It terrifies me,” said Ms. Murdaugh, 21.
The bullet that hit Mr. Davis missed his spine by inches. He said police officers who put pressure on his wound saved his life.
The gunfire shattered a normally peaceful homecoming for current and former residents of Brownsville. It came a little more than a day before a young white supremacist . Many New Yorkers drew a comparison between the two attacks, though Mayor Bill de Blasio , saying “that phrase is usually reserved for a different type of situation.”
The mayor’s comment from community leaders and elected Democrats in Brooklyn, some of whom said the mayor was downplaying its gravity because of his presidential aspirations. “I think that’s a political liability for him,” said Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat.
Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, said that calling the incident a mass shooting would draw more aid to Brownsville. “When it’s called a mass shooting, there’s an outpouring of support and resources that goes to that community,” he said.
Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Mr. de Blasio was waiting for the Police Department to determine the motive for the shooting and its intended targets. “That will indicate whether it is identified as a mass shooting,” she said.
Violent crime has in the neighborhood since 1993, when there were 74 murders. Still, Brownsville is one of nine areas where crime rates remain twice the citywide average, according to the police. Gang feuds are linked to half the murders and shootings in the neighborhood, police have said.
Less than a mile from where Mr. Pagan was killed, a familiar grief was sinking in at an apartment building on Sutter Avenue, where Mr. Pagan had lived on the ninth floor with his grandmother. His family had been through this before: His younger brother, George Moore, who was known as Joey, was killed in 2007.
Just outside the building were dozens of votive candles, and a few large color photographs of Mr. Pagan striking poses in stylish jeans, sneakers, ball caps and, in one, a sweater.
The version of Mr. Pagan that law enforcement officials described was not the side he showed to his neighbors, who remembered him as an amiable father of two children.
“He was a real good dude, didn’t bother nobody,” Mo Johnson, 32, said as he scrawled a message in red marker on a poster hung outside the building to memorialize Mr. Pagan.
“He wasn’t a troublemaker kid,” said Raul Salaman, 53, “but he hung out with thugs.”
Mr. Pagan was arrested in 2016 and pleaded guilty to a weapons charge that led to a two-year prison term, officials said.
Mr. Pagan seemed the kind of person that Mr. Davis, a native of Brownsville, had spent his life trying to help.
Before he retired in 2007, Mr. Davis, who goes by the nickname “Lottie,” coached basketball for the Police Athletic League on Rockaway Avenue and held tournaments at the Brownsville Recreational Center, located near the park where the shooting unfolded after Saturday’s festivities. He had lived across the street for more than 20 years and coached flag football in his spare time.
After retiring, Mr. Davis worked for about two years at the Democratic Club, where he ran youth programs. His main goal, he said, was to enroll young people in a summer jobs program, and he often dialed up friends at City Hall to squeeze in teenagers whose applications were rejected.
“I showed them that there were other ways to survive,” Mr. Davis said. “And the way to survive is to use your community.”
The police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said he had heard the same diagnosis from other community leaders in high-crime neighborhoods: Idleness and unemployment contribute to violence. “There is not enough to do,” Mr. O’Neill said, “or the programs that are out there —they don’t know about.”
For Mr. Davis, the pain of the shooting is twofold. First, there is the bullet still lodged in his back that doctors could not extract. (He was released from the hospital late Sunday with painkillers.) Then, there is the violence that still plagues Brownsville despite efforts to stop it.
The gunmen, he said, failed to grasp the deep “detriment” they had caused to the community by opening fire at an event meant to celebrate peace and surviving tough circumstances.
“I was just disappointed in these individuals,” he said. “They don’t understand what Brownsville Old Timers really meant.”
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