Then, early on Saturday morning, gunfire erupted inside the sparsely furnished club in the Crown Heights neighborhood, where at least 15 people were playing card and dice games, the police said.
When the shooting stopped, four people were dead and three were wounded, the police said. It was the second mass shooting in Brooklyn in the last three months and the second quadruple homicide in New York City in a week.
The police said the motive for the shooting was not immediately clear, though investigators ruled out gang activity. Dermot F. Shea, the chief of detectives, said investigators were trying to determine if a “gambling dispute or a robbery” was behind the shooting. No suspects had been identified, he said.
The victims ranged in age from 32-49 and were struck by more than 15 bullets fired inside the club just before 7 a.m., the police said.
Two of the people killed were from out of state, and the other two lived in Brooklyn. Three others, two men and a woman, suffered gunshots wounds but were expected to survive. An eighth person was hospitalized with a leg injury incurred while trying to escape, the police said.
On Saturday morning, police officials milled around the front of the social club, which is on the first floor of a low-rise town house. Crowds of onlookers pressed against the yellow police tape at the periphery of the scene, around Pacific Street and Utica Avenue.
A police crime scene van was parked out front, and forensic investigators in all-white bodysuits walked in and out. Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene.
Neighbors said that the event space often attracted crowds of people on motorcycles and scooters.
Isaac Mickens, a community organizer, described the place as a “hole-in-the-wall gambling den,” simply furnished with a small bar and a table. “It was real tight, real small, casual, low-key,” Mickens said. “A little hangout spot.”
Investigators recovered two firearms inside the location, a revolver and a 9-millimeter handgun, Shea said.
He said at least 15 people had been inside the cramped club when the shooting erupted. While there appeared to be an illegal gambling den set up on the first floor, he said, there was no evidence people had been drinking.
“What we see is evidence of some gambling, specifically cards, specifically dice,” Shea said. He added that there was no evidence the shooting was related to disputes between street gangs, which officials say have driven much of a spike in gun violence in northern Brooklyn this year.
Shea said the first calls to 911 reporting shots fired at the club came at 6:55 a.m.
The shooting shattered the morning calm of the neighborhood. Mamadou A. Diallo, the imam at the Masjid El-Ihsan mosque on Utica Avenue, said he had just finished praying when he heard the shots. Moments later, the police flooded the intersection, he said.
“A lot of shots, almost all together, bam-bam-bam,” Diallo said. “Scared, you know. Police coming from everywhere.”
Mickens said that when he made his way near the troubled venue after 7 a.m., he saw people running and screaming, “Oh God! Oh God!”
Early Saturday morning, investigators were interviewing witnesses and reviewing “a number of videos” from inside the club and nearby businesses to determine the chronology of the events and how many guns had been involved, Shea said.
“We have some individuals back at the 77th Precinct, and we’re trying to piece together exactly what transpired inside that location,” Shea said.
Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison said police had received “no complaints” about the unlicensed social club over the past two years. “No activity, no concerns from this location,” he said.
One neighbor, who requested anonymity because he feared retaliation from the clandestine club operators, said the place was well known as a gambling spot and appeared to operate round-the-clock with impunity.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the unassuming building came to life, he said. Orange traffic cones would be placed on the street to reserve space for the mostly male patrons, who arrived in flashy cars and on motorcycles, sometimes accompanied by women in party dresses.
Last night was no different, he said. He came home at around 11 p.m. to find the place buzzing with people. Patrons mingled around the door and leaned on parked cars.
On at least one occasion, he said, he witnessed men walking into the establishment openly carrying guns. “The place was a ticking time bomb,” he said.
While the police had not received recent complaints about the club, building authorities had in the past, according to city building records. One complaint from November 2008 said a caller stated that the first floor of the residential property was being used as commercial space, specifically a men’s club. A follow-up complaint 15 days later indicated that a caller said the first floor had been converted into a “nightclub” and was operating seven days a week.
Samuel Revells, 79, said he owned the building and had leased the space to the club operators, but he declined to identify them. “It’s a social club,” he said. “They’re good tenants. I’m here every day but I don’t know what goes on there. I’m just sorry for what happened.”
The fatal shooting was the second quadruple murder to rattle the city in a week.
Last Saturday morning, the police arrested Randy Rodriguez Santos, a troubled homeless man, and charged him with bludgeoning five other homeless men with a 3-foot, 15-pound metal bar as they slept at different street corners of Chinatown. Four of them died and a fifth was clinging to his life at an area hospital.
It was also the second mass shooting in Brooklyn in the last three months. Late in July, one man was killed and 11 other people were injured when at least two gunmen opened fire during the 56th annual Old Timers Day block party in Brooklyn. The police said that shooting appeared to be linked to a gang.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had proclaimed New York “the safest big city in America” during a news conference earlier this week because of its low crime rate, said the shooting highlighted the need to “get guns off our streets once and for all.”
“No two mass shootings are the same, but all of them jar a community’s sense of safety,” de Blasio said. “We won’t rest until we end the scourge of gun violence in New York City.”
As murder rates continue to plummet citywide, shooting incidents have remained stubborn in some pockets of the city.
Crown Heights experienced a rash of shootings earlier this year, many of them linked to gang disputes, prompting the police to step up patrols. Through Oct. 6, the number of people wounded or killed in shootings in the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights, where the shooting on Saturday took place, had nearly doubled over the previous year, rising to 26 from 14.
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