UNION, N.J. – A shooting at a New Jersey roller skating rink during a Christmas party for young people has left one boy dead, according to authorities and witnesses.
Authorities said 16-year-old Jean D'Haiti from Elizabeth was shot after a fight spilled out to the parking lot of the Skate 22 rink in Union about 10 minutes past midnight on Friday. He was pronounced dead when police arrived.
"It was rented out for a private party. At some point before the shooting, there were two groups of people fighting, words were exchanged and shots rang out," said John Holl, a spokesman for Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow.
Some of the nearly 700 teens and young adults, ages 13-25, who attended the Thursday night party told television stations at the scene that fights between groups of girls erupted throughout the night.
But Romankow said authorities weren't sure they were members of a gang, but believes that two "factions of organized groups" from Elizabeth were involved in the incident.
Romankow said there was only one gunmen, though he declined to name any possible suspects. He would also not say how many times D'Haiti was shot or where, and declined to say how many shots were fired in all.
Felicia Johnson said there was a gang fight outside the rink and that a boy about 15 or 16 years old was shot twice in the head and died.
Teenager Diamond Watkins said the boy was shot in front of her. She says screaming people stampeded toward the doors to get out and some were trampled.
Police are still investigating and no arrests have been made, Romankow said.
A man who answered the telephone at the skating rink on Friday morning said he couldn't talk about the shooting.
Union township officials said there had been previous incidents in the parking lot outside the rink, but declined to give specifics.
Township Business Administrator Frank Bradley said there were supposed to be two licensed police officers inside the rink, and that the township had met with the rink's owner — whom he declined to name — in the past over safety concerns. Bradley said the township had tried to regulate the rink's hours of operation but the effort was rejected by local courts as unconstitutional.
"We met with the owners and their attorneys to set the ground rules, and that resulted in an understanding that there were safeguards in place to prevent any violence," Bradley said.
Union Mayor Clifton People said the township would be looking more closely into how the club is run, but declined to specify what actions or possible sanctions the township would take.
The National United Youth Council, an Elizabeth-based anti-violence advocacy group, called for the city to shut the rink down, citing a long history of violence there.
"How many body bags do we have to fill before we come together and do something?" said the group's youth coordinator, Anthony Hall. "Where can we find a safe haven for our kids?"