A man apprehended on suspicion of killing a photographer at a park occupied by protesters had participated in a number of recent protests, officials said.
Steven Nelson Lopez, 23, was arrested on charges of murder and first-degree wanton endangerment.
“This man had been participating in the protests since they began, and he had been arrested a couple of times over the past several weeks,” interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder told reporters at a press conference on June 28.
“He had been repeatedly asked by other members in the park to leave due to his disruptive behavior.”
Showing surveillance footage at a press conference, officials said Lopez late June 27 fatally shot Tyler Gerth, a 27-year-old photographer, at Jefferson Square Park in Louisville.
“A man opened fire from the edge of the protest area at about 9 p.m., resulting in several people firing weapons, and chaos for those at the park,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, told reporters.
“It is just difficult to comprehend why things like this happen,” Fischer said. “Whether they were there at the time of the shooting or not, I know the sadness of those who have been organizing and participating in peaceful protest for racial justice. This is absolutely not what they wanted, or any of us wanted.”
Deputies from Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office responded quickly and began treating victims while police officers were on the scene within four minutes of receiving a call.
Surveillance video showed a man authorities said was Nelson at the corner of the park brandishing a weapon. The man, dressed in black shorts and a T-shirt and carrying a dark-colored backpack, appeared to be in the process of being pushed out of the park by several people before pulling out the gun.
After he did so, the people scattered as Nelson fired multiple shots.
Bystanders also captured the shooting on cellphone cameras, giving officials multiple angles to work with in identifying the shooter.
“Tyler was incredibly kind, tenderhearted and generous, holding deep convictions and faith,” Gerth’s family said in a statement to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Multiple other people in the park were armed at the time of the incident. Investigators are still working to identify everyone who may have fired during the situation.
Following the shooting, the Louisville Metro Police Department said conditions in the park “have become increasingly unsafe.”
“While most protesters in the park have been largely peaceful, things changed last night when shots rang out in the park, leaving one dead and one other shot,” the department stated.
Starting June 28, officers were enforcing a local law that prohibits camping.
The park will be closed each night at 11 p.m. and reopen at 6 a.m. Any property left overnight will be removed. The park will be cleaned daily.
People who don’t leave the park can be charged with third-degree criminal trespass.
Amy Hess, chief of public services, said the number of tents became a safety issue, blocking officials from seeing what exactly happened from surveillance video.
She said officials weren’t enforcing the law before the shooting.
Signs prohibiting camping have been in the park since the beginning, but officials “wanted to balance the First Amendment exercise of free speech, the need to be able to come together and demand change, at the same time while understanding that ordinances were in place for a reason, and it was specifically to help protect public safety,” she said at the press conference.
“When that became out of balance, we saw a need last night to take action.”