RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Police Chief Gerald Smith sounded authoritative when he held a press conference to announce that police had thwarted a planned mass shooting at a July 4 fireworks show in Richmond.
Smith said two men had planned the shooting for the Dogwood Dell Amphitheater. But the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that records obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act show that Smith was informed in writing before his July 6 news conference that the location of any potential incident was “unknown.”
Police said a tipster who had overheard a conversation called police and said there was a plot for a shooting at a large July Fourth event in Richmond.
The records show that the tipster had not specified a location. A police official emailed those records to Smith and an assistant seven minutes before Smith’s news conference. The records also show that Richmond police shared with the FBI that a location was unknown.
In an interview last week with the Times-Dispatch, Smith said his “experience” was part of how he concluded that Dogwood Dell must have been the intended target.
Police arrested one suspect on July 1, seizing guns and ammunition in a residence, and arrested the second, who was under surveillance, after July Fourth. The two men are in federal custody — one on a gun charge and one on an immigration charge — but neither has been charged with anything related to a planned shooting. Smith said last week that Richmond detectives could not corroborate the tipster’s allegation of a shooting plot.
Smith’s news conference came two days after seven people were killed in an Independence Day parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.
The chief’s claim that Dogwood Dell amphitheater was known to be the intended target caused alarm.
“I think the level of anxiety that they caused the neighbors that live here was ridiculous,” said Paige Quilter, the president of the Carillon Civic Association.
In a response issued through a city spokesperson, Smith said he didn’t have time to review or approve the talking points sent to him minutes before his scheduled news conference.
He said his goal was to be transparent and not cause alarm.
“For any confusion or anxiety that my stating Dogwood Dell was the most likely target, I am deeply sorry,” Smith said in the statement.