A youth pastor in Syracuse, New York, said he helped protect and shield an unconscious teenager fighting for his life during a mass shooting Saturday night that involved six shooters and appears to be gang-related.
Nitch Jones, the pastor of youth and young adult affairs at Syracuse’s Zion Hill World Harvest Baptist Church, took to Facebook Sunday morning to unload his thoughts following the horrifying shooting the night before that ended a large party attended by hundreds on the city’s Near West Side.
“I have never been inside of a live warzone in my life,” Jones said in the Facebook video.
“I have been around or in the vicinity of someone shooting. But I have never been in the middle. Literally, we were in the middle … of a warzone, a battle, where guns were spraying all around us, where guns were spraying right in front of us and people were getting hit and there were feet in front of us.”
After shooters opened fire at the annual “Rye Day” party held by a well-respected area businessman in honor of his birthday, pandemonium ensued as hundreds fled for their lives.
Jones, a 32-year-old father of one child who most of the day ran a voter registration booth at the gathering, detailed the moments when the shooting occurred.
Jones recalled his friend screaming at him to lay down. Jones knew that his family was also at the scene and if he was scared, they must have been even more scared. But Jones said that every time he tried to get up to run to his family, bullets would fly.
“I seen a kid lying down unresponsive in front of me and there was nothing that I could do besides just lay there with him and wait for help and run for help. There was nothing that I could do,” Jone explained. “That hurt me beyond belief.”
Jones said he was “so shook up” that he couldn’t sleep Saturday night.
“I seen people from my city. I seen kids. I seen women. I say kids because I am 32. A 17-year-old boy to me, he is a kid,” Jone added.
“These are horrible times,” he continued. “We can’t even go to a cookout, we can’t even go to a gathering without something like this happening. This is sad, man.”
Jones said he and his cousin, who is a nurse, aided the teenager who was unresponsive as he laid on the ground. Jones recalled that the teen's pulse was very weak.
“We can’t do CPR because he is laying on his stomach and we don’t move him. All we are doing is laying there to make sure nobody touches him or nobody moves him and we are continuing to check his pulse,” Jones explained. “[My cousin] sat there the whole time.”
Jones said that he went to flag down a paramedic after the shooting.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said eight people suffered minor injuries in the shooting. The 17-year-old boy is still in critical condition.
Syracuse.com reports that witnesses said the outdoor party was wrapping up around 9 p.m. when a gunfight broke out. However, the district attorney has not said which gangs were involved in the conflict. No arrests have been announced by the district attorney’s office.
According to Jones, the party was monitored by two police officers for most of the day.
The decision to host the party this year had come under scrutiny due to the coronavirus pandemic. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said at a press conference Monday that the “event never should have happened with that many people.”
Jones pushed back against those blaming prominent Syracuse business owner Ryedell Davis.
Jones argues that the police had ample opportunity to stop the party before the shooting, had the mayor forbidden it.
Jones called on those who recorded the gunfight with their cell phones to “step up” and give videos or photos to the police to help identify the shooters.
“You a punk if you sitting up here and allow these people to fight for their lives in these hospitals but you not gonna say something,” Jones said. “Your phone caught a video; your phone caught a picture or something. If you seen something, you need to say something. There is an anonymous tip line.”
The “Rye Day” party came as protests have been held nationwide for the past month in the wake of the police-involved killing of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Jones called on protesters and demonstrators in Syracuse, a city that has for decades faced a gang war, to figure out what it is they are protesting for.
“I am talking about for issues like this right here in Syracuse,” Jone said. “We want the violence to stop. But march after march, rally after rally, protest after protest, it continues.”
Jones questioned: “What are we doing inside of our community?”
“Where is the neighborhood watch? Where is the community police?” he asked. “The same people that we just said to defund, the same people that we are trying to defund, are the same people that we called yesterday to protect us. What are we going to do? How do we handle moments and situations like this? That’s a real question to everyone.”