Just after midnight on Father’s Day, a volley of gunshots crackled around 135th Street and Harlem River Drive, violently punctuating an otherwise beautiful holiday at a popular summer picnic area.
At the end of it all, Darius Lee, a 21-year-old basketball standout at Houston Baptist University, was dead. Eight others were wounded.
Hours after the shooting Monday, police tape marked off the garbage-strewn scene. Numbered yellow tags dotted the footbridge leading to the East River Waterfront Esplanade, a pavilion area next to the highway. It looked like the chaotic aftermath of any other summer barbecue in the city: discarded red Solo cups, empty cans of Modelo, an abandoned baseball cap. Two barbecues were left open, one with food still on the grill.
“It’s somewhat arbitrary, if somebody gets injured and dies, versus somebody just gets injured. Those things are up to chance, really, ”said Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies mass violence. “If we only look when a lot of people are killed, we kind of miss the bigger picture.”
The Justice Department defines mass shootings as any incident in which four or more victims are murdered. Other organizations define them as any time four or more people are shot.
“There is no one right answer. Both of those definitions encompass horrible things, ”said Michael Anestis, the executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University.
Public, random mass shootings like those in Buffalo or Uvalde, Texas, “represent about 1 percent or less of gun violence in America, and yet soak up about 95 percent of the oxygen in terms of the national conversation on gun violence,” Dr. Anestis said.
The lower-profile attacks amass a terrible toll of their own. Just this weekend: Around 3 am on Sunday, a gunman opened fire in the Ozone Park section of Queens, shooting three and killing one; in Washington, DC, a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed and three others, including a police officer, were shot at a music festival; in Chicago, 47 people were shot; and in Philadelphia, nine shootings left three dead and six wounded.
In Los Angeles, a 17-year-old boy and a 23-year-old man were wounded Saturday in a shooting behind a Target store in the Baldwin Hills area. And at the Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian mall in downtown Las Vegas, a man was fatally shot and a bystander wounded Sunday when gunfire erupted after a fight in a casino spilled outside.
Vestavia Hills, a wealthy suburb of Birmingham, Ala., Was also shaken after a 70-year-old visitor to an Episcopal church fatally shot three participants in a potluck on the evening of June 16.
In mass shootings, violence often feels random, Dr. Anestis said. Assault weapons are often used, and bought legally, and the victims are often chosen arbitrarily. But in incidents like the one in Harlem, or others that happen regularly in the city, violence is often targeted, he said.
And, the weapons are often different: The police released a photo on Monday of a recovered firearm from Harlem River Drive – a handgun.
“That’s a different set of solutions,” Dr. Anestis said, adding that programs like street-level violence interrupters, who work with victims in hospitals to cool revenge shootings and street feuds, have promise.
Even as shooting rates recede, their impact has fallen on bystanders. In May, an 11-year-old girl was killed when she was caught in the crossfire of teenagers in the Bronx. In March, a 12-year-old boy was struck and killed by a bullet, as he sat in a car in Brooklyn, eating a meal with his family. And, in April, a 61-year-old woman was shot and killed in crossfire in the Bronx.
On Monday, New York police officials said the other eight people shot in the incident in Harlem overnight were in stable condition.
Houston Baptist mourned Mr. Lee, who was set to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in December. He had recently been named the university’s male student-athlete of the year. By Monday afternoon, a makeshift memorial had sprung up outside Mr. Lee’s Harlem childhood home. Blue, orange and white candles – the colors of Houston Baptist – filled the sidewalk.
“We are in shock and can not wrap our heads around this news,” his coach, James Sears Bryant, said in a statement.
Tea Kvetenadze spirit Simon Romero contributed reporting.