INDIANAPOLIS — Linda Tantillo flew in from Las Vegas to meet a longtime friend and her husband for a fun weekend getaway in downtown Indianapolis.
“We came into town, we thought it would be nice, check everything out. We went to a couple little small towns, and we wanted to stay down here, have a little bit of fun, and then this morning we came out and our car is all shot up.”
Maryann Rich’s gold Lexus with Missouri plates was sitting in the parking lot in the 200 block of South Meridian Street Sunday at 1 a.m. when a gun battle broke out.
“The bullet went through my passenger side window, through the headrest and landed in my back seat,” said Rich, who hails from St. Louis, which ironically has an even higher homicide rate than Indianapolis this summer. “I’m gonna try to get the car fixed and move on. I’m not gonna blame Indianapolis.”
Witnesses reported to IMPD that they saw at least two, maybe three, men shooting at each other in the parking lot with surveillance cameras and at least one cell phone capturing an image of a suspected shooter.
Dozens of shell casings littered the ground, a car with a rifle and bullet holes was discovered on Monument Circle, and amazingly, no one was found injured at the scene, though at least two people reported to Indianapolis hospitals with bullet wounds early Sunday morning that may or may not be related to the shootout.
Bullet holes pocked windows on the upper floors of a hotel and a neighboring loft condominium building next door on South Meridian Street.
“Things were getting very chaotic, so the officers shut the bars down, basically,” said IMPD Commander Kerry Buckner. “We had no choice but to shut the bars down and evacuate people so that nobody would get hit; that way if a second wave of gunshots came, we didn’t want any innocents getting hit.”
Some of those innocents were local people just leaving the bars to find their cars damaged and inaccessible until police cleared the crime scene after the sun came up.
Others were like Rich and her friend.
“Now we have people from other states and other cities visiting downtown,” said Buckner, “and that’s a bad look for us.”
Bar and hotel managers who were not authorized to comment on camera told FOX59 that they expect news of the overnight gunfight to hurt business as visitors are less likely to come downtown and employees are hesitant to report for work because of the danger they face walking back to their vehicles after their shift.
“It changed my perception,” said Orlando Hester, who has been visiting Indianapolis from Atlanta for more than a week. “I think it’s still a nice quiet area for the most part. It just needs to be a little bit more police presence downtown.”
IMPD reported more than 20 officers were on duty downtown when the shooting started.
“We have our normal shift officers, we also have what I call a SET team, which is a special event team which is made up of one supervisor and seven officers, so they were already deployed down here as well as off-duty officers that were in the bar district as well,” said IMPD Downtown District Commander Phil Burton. “And typically what we do is at some point, and that’s left up to the supervisors that are here, is what they would do is they would shut down Meridian Street at some point to all vehicular traffic, and then we just manage the crowds and try to get them to get in their cars and leave safely.”
While gunfire is frequently heard during the early morning hours of Saturdays and Sundays in the downtown bar district, Burton said IMPD has a plan in place to secure the city’s core one week from now as Indianapolis prepares to celebrate the 4th of July with both fireworks and an Indianapolis Indians game for the first time in two years.
“We already got our operations planned, and we have a lot more resources downtown for the 4th of July that are supplemented through our special operations branch,” said Burton. “As far as bumping up, what we’ll do is increase our patrols in and around those hotspot areas, we’ll have officers with their lights on actually getting into any type of dark spots that we might have with a lot more frequency, so we’ll have them do that every 10 or 15 minutes every couple hours really hitting that and showing high visibility.”
Burton said additional horse and bike patrols, more officers on foot and asking bars and property owners to staff parking lots with security may also be contemplated.
Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Office did issue a statement on Sunday night in response to the overnight violence in the heart of downtown.
“Last night, a small group of individuals engaged in dangerous and reckless behavior that has no place in our city. This type of senseless violence cannot, and will not, be tolerated,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our public safety partners to hold these bad actors accountable.”
Hogsett also weighed in with a Tweet: “Thank you to the men and women of @impdnews who responded quickly to last night’s exchange of gunfire, helping prevent any injuries.”
The mayor then asked anyone with information on the gunfight to call Crime Stoppers at (317) 262-TIPS.
Hester has a message for the mayor.
“I will probably stay out in the suburbs next time as opposed to being downtown.”
“It would maybe make me second guess where I would stay, maybe next time stick to the suburbs perhaps.”