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Crowds gather on Benjamin Franklin Parkway ahead of the firework show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on July 4, 2021.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn students living in Philadelphia over the summer flocked to enjoy the fireworks at the July 4 Wawa Welcome America festival in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. However, the event was soon filled with the screams of stampeding crowds as people fled from an active shooting incident.

Gunshots were fired that evening around 9:47 p.m., moments after the fireworks began, hitting two police officers – both now in stable condition. The Philadelphia Police Department has an ongoing investigation into the July 4 shooting, and the perpetrator has yet to be identified.

Several students present at the fireworks display recounted their experiences during and after the shooting to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Rising College sophomore Karen Raphael and rising Engineering sophomore Emma Dreispiel escaped from the area as soon as their friend texted and alerted them about the shooting. After running a few blocks away from Benjamin Franklin Parkway, they knocked on numerous doors near 23rd and Spring Garden streets until they found shelter in one home for an hour.

“In the moment, we had no idea what was going on, didn’t know whether there were people dead behind us or not. It was high panic that night – very, very stressful,” Dreispiel said to the DP. 

The two friends still feel scared from Monday’s shooting, knowing that the shooter remains uncaught by the police. Both students noted that in the future, they will be avoiding big gatherings.

“We were going to buy Made In America tickets, and realizing that it was in the same place [as the Welcome America festival] we thought, ‘maybe not,’” Dreispiel said.

Rising Engineering sophomore Jordyn Harris was also present that night. Harris has lived in Baltimore, a high crime rate city, her entire life. So having accepted that gun violence will be a part of living in any major city, Harris doesn’t find it necessary to change her engagement with Philadelphia after the shooting.

“I saw the buildup [to the shooting] happening, so I felt fine. It’s just city life. I’m used to city life and protecting myself – in Baltimore [crime] is always around.”

Harris discussed that the security protocols at the festival were not adequate, commenting that the bag checking and metal detectors were “not that great” in the concert area. Harris, along with Raphael, both mentioned that they and their friends were able to walk into the event venue without much inspection or security check.

After hearing news about the shootings at Highland Park and Penn’s Landing earlier the same day, rising College sophomore Zach Rentala – who went to see the fireworks with some friends – wasn’t surprised that the shooting occurred. After regrouping back on campus, the scariest part for Rentala was hearing fireworks continuing to go off throughout the night. “Any loud noise is like – ‘okay, that's definitely something that may be a gunshot,’” Rentals said to the DP.

Rising Engineering sophomore McKenzie Davis went to the festival to spend the holiday with six of her friends. Even after running far away from the shooting and returning back to campus, Davis and her friends had not yet processed what had happened that evening.

“We all met at my friend’s house, and didn’t go home for hours – we just all didn’t want to be alone,” Davis said. “It is still just really jarring … There is a lot of thinking about how it could’ve turned out much differently for everyone involved.”