By Dan Sewell / Associated Press
CINCINNATI — Cincinnati police said they are making progress in their investigation into a nightclub shooting while city leaders Monday encouraged more witnesses to come forward to help find those responsible for the gun battle inside the crowded club that left one man dead, 16 people injured and more questions about safety in public gathering spots.
Police Chief Eliot Isaac said investigators believe there were multiple shooters based on the number of shots fired in the melee early Sunday morning in the Cameo club, a popular hip-hop music spot near the Ohio river east of downtown Cincinnati. Police estimated there were more than 20 shots, sending club patrons diving to the floor or scrambling away from a chaotic and terrifying scene.
“We’re gathering information … we’re making some progress,” Isaac said after giving city council members an update on the investigation. He declined to say whether police have identified possible suspects, but said police weren’t actively looking for anyone.”
The FBI and federal firearms agents are assisting Cincinnati police.
Isaac said the initial investigation indicates a dispute in the bar escalated into a gun fight around 1:30 a.m., with shots fired by “several individuals.” He said no club security footage of the shooting has emerged.
He said “a number” of people have contacted police with tips or information, including a person who came forward Sunday evening to report having been shot, raising the total number injured to 16 besides the 27-year-old man slain. Two of the 16 injured were in critical condition Monday. Three other people remained hospitalized in stable condition.
Isaac said some of the wounded could be key witnesses. City officials urged potentially reluctant witnesses to help, saying they would be protected. Crime witnesses afraid to testify for fear of retribution have been a problem in some past Cincinnati cases.
Isaac said the nightclub had metal detectors, or wands, but wasn’t required to by law. Four police officers were working off-duty security details in the club parking lot, but he emphasized the club provides its own security inside.
He said Cameo club operator Julian “Jay” Rodgers has been cooperating with investigators.
The veteran Cincinnati area entertainment operator has pledged to “do everything in our power to make sure the monsters that did this are caught and brought to justice.” Rodgers also said the club will remain closed until police and internal investigations are completed.
The city solicitor told council members the annual review of liquor licenses is coming up next month, and establishments with a history of violence or being a neighborhood nuisance could find their licenses challenged. Authorities said bar owners often work with police to make safety improvements.
City officials have said the Cameo club has had past violent incidents, including a shooting inside the club on New Year’s Day in 2015 and one in the parking lot in September of that year.
Several city leaders pledged to try to find a way to prevent such violence, while acknowledging such violent outbreaks have continued to occur across the country.
“We live in a city and a country where we ought to be able to go out and have a good time and not be terrorized by gun violence,” Mayor John Cranley said.
He said there has been an outpouring of support from elected officials, including fellow mayors in other cities.
“I think they know that this could happen anywhere,” Cranley said.
The first reports of the shooting raised alarms about a possible terror-related attack, like those that have struck crowded public venues around the globe.
Cincinnati Police Lt. Steve Saunders said he received calls from an Australian consulate and from other countries, such as Germany and Canada, concerned that their citizens could have been hurt. Saunders said he was unaware of any foreign visitors wounded in the club.
Shootings at U.S. bars and nightclubs have rarely involved more than a handful people. But the Orlando, Florida, nightclub massacre last June that killed 49 people and injured 53 was the exception, making it the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
One teen died and eight others were injured in 2010 when gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a St. Louis club after a group was turned away from entering. Two teen girls died and seven other people were hurt in a 2009 shooting outside an underage nightclub in Portland, Oregon.
In Cincinnati, four candles illuminated a makeshift memorial outside the club on a foggy Monday morning. A poster dedicated to O’Bryan Spikes, the man killed, said “R.I.P. Lucky” and “Father Son Uncle Brother.”
Associated Press reporters John Seewer in Toledo, Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus and John Minchillo in Cincinnati and AP researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed.