‘It felt like a very American moment:’ How Drexel students lived through the Fourth of July shooting | The Triangle

‘It felt like a very American moment:’ How Drexel students lived through the Fourth of July shooting

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Brad Johnson

Gunshots went off at this year’s “Wawa Welcome America festival”—one of the largest free festivals in the country, gathering up to 175,000 people in past years. To celebrate America’s Independence day, Welcome America hosts a ‘Party on the Parkway’ event, a concert and fireworks over the art museum to finish off the evening. 

With Drexel University’s campus only blocks away from the festival, crowds of students headed to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to watch the fireworks. But two shots were fired as the show started at 9:45 p.m., injuring two police officers. The following Tuesday after the shooting, Philadelphia Police attempted to find the shooter. Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said security at the event “really don’t have a clear picture of where the bullets came from.” The officers stationed did not hear any shots before the officers were hit. 

Later, Mayor Jim Kenney said in an interview with NBC10 Philadelphia that the shots had come from outside the event site. Vamore told reporters that they “do not know the origin of the shooting.”

Earlier that evening, Nick Papaterpou, a senior at Drexel, headed to the firework show with a group of friends. 

“I remember having a bad feeling about going because of the shooting in Indianapolis,” Papaterpou said, “but I hadn’t seen fireworks in years so I decided to go.” They claimed their spot in the grass right across the street from the Rocky steps at 9:30 p.m., eyeing a line of police officers on the steps. 

A Drexel senior finance major, who asked to be left anonymous for safety reasons, and her friends had the same idea, thinking, “It’s free and a block away.” She wanted to catch the concert and fireworks, but ended up skipping the concert and watching the fireworks from the Spring Garden Street Bridge. 

“I kind of had a gut feeling to stay back and not go to the concert, and now looking back I’m grateful because we weren’t in that crowd,” the Drexel student said. From the crowd, Papaterpou and his friends were waiting for the show to start when a group in front of him got up and started running. 

“It looked like one of the officers got tackled, but in retrospect, that could’ve been the cop that got shot,” Papaterpou said. 

Papaterpou didn’t know what was going on, but he and his friends knew they had to leave. “I said, ‘We should get out of here,’ and then BOOM the fireworks started,” Papaterpou said. The senior student and his friends ran, passing SWAT cars, ambulances and police officers. 

“There was a cop and you could see on her face she was freaked out. People were asking her, ‘What’s going on?’ and she said ‘I don’t know, but get out of here,’” Papaterpou said.

While his group of friends ran down the Parkway towards Center City, other visitors retreated via the Spring Garden bridge towards Drexel’s campus, where the anonymous senior finance student stood. 

She was watching the fireworks over the art museum when she saw people running and screaming. The crowd included kids and at first she thought they were just playing, until a woman started yelling ‘There’s a shooting!  there’s a shooting!’ she recalled. “My friend thought it was a false alarm. But I thought, ‘I don’t care if it’s a false alarm or not, I’m just gonna run.’” She took the few blocks back to her house and started checking the Citizen app, a platform that allows users to check for police warnings, and the news to see what was going on. 

On the other end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Papaterpou and his friends walked home along the Schuylkill—where he tried locating the friends he’d lost in the commotion, calling his parents and checking Twitter to see what was going on. On Twitter was confirmation that shots had been fired. 

“Walking home we passed all these families on the Schuylkill watching the fireworks, totally oblivious to the screaming, sirens, helicopters—what felt like a warzone,” Papaterpou said. 

This shooting is one of at least 1,100 shootings in Philadelphia this year. Gun violence has been at a record high in the city, eclipsing the number six months into the year of any previous year.

The sobering reality of gun violence has affected more than just the student body but residents around the great-Philadelphia area, even before the “Welcome America” festival. Following the Fourth of July, Papaterpou and the senior finance major have both said the experience made them nervous about attending big events in the future. Yet gun violence and gun-related crimes continue to reach all-time highs across the country. 

Shots that struck officers at the July 4th celebration came from the same gun, potentially over a mile from Parkway. 

Papaterpou is struggling with the fact there are still no answers. 

“I read an article saying that this wasn’t a ‘bad shooting’ because no one got killed. But the fact that there can be a good and bad shooting is ridiculous,” Papaterpou said. “I am stuck between being grateful because it could’ve been a lot worse … but there’s also a part of me that thinks just because nobody died doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad.” 

“It felt like a very American moment,” Papaterpou said. “Walking home we passed this building lit up like the American flag, with a helicopter in the background looking for an active shooter at a family event.”