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D.C. Pride & March for Our Lives Interrupted by Gun Violence Fears

March for Our Lives participant
Photo of Lark -- a nonbinary 13-year-old participant -- courtesy of Kristina Jeffers

People attending the events on Saturday were panicked over shooting scares, heightened by recent mass shootings across the U.S., including in New York and Texas.  

Cwnewser

On Saturday, thousands of people turned out for two major events in the nation's capital focused on social issues: the March for Our Lives and Capital Pride parade. However, both gatherings featuring different aspects of American life were temporarily interrupted by panic due to concerns about gun violence.

Following two canceled Prides due to the global pandemic, thousands lined the streets of the District on Saturday.

This year, the organizers, Capital Pride Alliance, aspired "to celebrate, educate, support, and inspire our multifaceted communities."

The organizers expected up to half a million spectators. A sea of people lined the parade route and most people were having an exceptional time. However, an estimate of onlookers was unavailable at the time of publication.

After the parade, thousands of people gathered in areas popular with the LGBTQ+ community, including Dupont Circle, which radiates from a large traffic circle with a city park and a fountain in the middle.

The large crowd milled about and continued celebrating its first Pride event since 2019.

Then, suddenly, people rushed over park benches and dove into ditches backed by bushes and the roadways as if to escape a threat.

A commotion caught the attention of Will Smink and a group of coworkers from a local TV station while they were enjoying dinner at the Admiral just across Dupont Circle.

"We suddenly saw a mass exodus of people walking quickly and running from Dupont Circle as if they were in a panic," the news director tells The Advocate. "Several of my coworkers grabbed out their phones and started recording as the good journalists they are."

Video shared on Twitter shows the ensuing chaos.

"For a brief second, it felt very intense and frightening because this is the first situation I've ever been in like this. But once we spoke to several people who were leaving the area, they informed us of what was a big fight in the circle. And they said somebody allegedly pulled a gun which is when everybody began to run."

Marquia Parnell with Capital Pride Alliance says the incident happened after the parade had ended and following route cleanup.

"It appears to have involved individuals who were not part of our planned events," Parnell says. "We are still gathering additional information and will be able to discuss this in greater detail once we have a better understanding of what occurred and who was involved."

A spokesperson with the Metropolitan Police Department tells The Advocate that officers investigated and found nothing.

"MPD investigated and there was nothing identified or found to be a threat," department public information officer Sean Hickman says. "There were no reported injuries."

In 2019, a panic similarly broke out, leading to chaos and terror with people scrambling to find safety. At that time, word of a person with a gun spread through the crowd leading to pandemonium, with people knocking over barriers and climbing over each other to get away. Police arrested a man with a BB gun during that incident.

Saturday's Dupont Circle incident was the second time on the same day that fears of gun violence disrupted an event in the city.

Earlier Saturday, the gun safety advocacy group March for Our Lives held rallies nationwide, including one at the National Mall, in response to a spate of mass shootings across the country, including a race-based rampage at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., and the murders of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Kristina Jeffers and Lark, her nonbinary 13-year-old child, had decided to attend the rally and try to catch the Pride parade afterward. It was evident from the clothing in the crowds at both events that many people attended both, she tells The Advocate.

During a moment of silence for the victims in Uvalde, she noticed people closer to the stage suddenly lay down and thought that maybe she had missed a cue until she saw the crowd begin to run.

"I grabbed Lark's hand and ran for the open grass," she says.

About 15 seconds after she began running, she heard someone on the sound system tell people that there was no danger and to stop.

She says that while the rally organizers handled the incident well and prevented people from being trampled, the moment remained on her mind.

This video shared on social media shows that moment.

In a tweet shortly before 2:30 p.m. Eastern, U.S. Park Police said they found no weapons and no danger to the public.

The police wrote in a tweet, "An individual interfered with a permitted event on the Washington Monument grounds. The individual was detained by officers. No weapons were involved, and there is no risk to the public."

Jeffers says that she's brought Lark to protests -- particularly in support of marriage equality -- since they were 7 months old and has never worried about safety.

"Even in 2009, I was just vaguely aware that someone might yell at me for having a baby there, but I never thought something terrible would happen," she says. "But today, I really worried that I'd made a mistake by taking them."

Jeffers notes that young people instantly reacted to what they believed was a shooting threat.

"What struck me was how slow I was to react," she says. "I'm a "young Gen Xer and never went through active shooter drills in school. So watching these millennial and Gen Z kids throw themselves to the ground and start running in these hunched-over positions was horrifying, not just because the situation was scary but because they had a plan, and I really wish our youth didn't have to grow up that way."

While Smink had not seen the video of the first panic, he says he understands why some people would have been hesitant to go out later in the day.

"Honestly, if I had seen a video earlier in the day, I would definitely re-weigh my options and thoughts on attending events in the city that day," he says.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).