DUMAS, Ark. — A community event and car show in a small Arkansas farming community became a scene of horror on Saturday night, as two people engaged in a gunfight and sprayed the crowd with bullets, killing one bystander and injuring 27 other people, including six children.
Survivors said the violence erupted with a startling suddenness. “You went from laughing and talking and eating and everything to random firing,” said Candace McKinzie, 26, one of the organizers of the event. Ms. McKinzie said that she was eating a funnel cake at a booth when she heard a series of pops, and soon saw a stampede of people running and tripping over one another, including “elderly people falling, trying to hide under tables.”
Saturday’s incident was the largest mass shooting event in the United States in 2022 so far, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit data collection organization. It came on a particularly bloody weekend in the region: In Dallas, 10 people were injured and one shot in the head, during a shooting on Saturday night, according to a local TV station.
Around the same time in Austin, four people were injured in a shooting in the vicinity of the city’s Sixth Street entertainment district on the last weekend of South by Southwest, Austin’s famous arts and technology conference.
The shooting in Dumas, a city of 4,000 people about 90 miles southeast of Little Rock, ruined a beloved local event called Hood-Nic, for neighborhood picnic, hosted by a foundation that offers tutoring, backpacks and scholarships to first-time college students, according to its website. The big outdoor party had been canceled two years running because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Saturday’s event was supposed to represent a much-needed return to normal.
At a news conference on Sunday afternoon, police did not give details about the reasons the suspects began fighting, or their relationship to each other. Col. Bill Bryant, director of the Arkansas State Police, said that both men remained at large.
“It’s shocking,” he said, adding, “You don’t expect that from small-town Arkansas.”
Dumas is the largest city in Desha County, a swath of flat, fertile agricultural land that hugs the Mississippi River in Arkansas’s Delta region. According to U.S. Census figures, per capita income in the county is just over $19,000, with nearly 23 percent of county residents living in poverty.
The Hood-Nic event took place in the parking lot of a branch of Fred’s, a regional discount retail chain that declared bankruptcy and closed all of its stores in 2019.
Detrich Elliott, 42, the owner of an online radio station in Little Rock, served as a host of the event and said that things had gone smoothly for much of the day, with no indication of tension. The sun was shining. A band played R&B music. Rappers performed onstage, preachers issued prayers, and politicians sought votes. People set up lawn chairs in front of the stage, and people of all ages, including many children, milled around amid food trucks and custom cars that were set to be the focus of a popularity contest.
Sometime after 6 p.m., the people who had gathered near the stage were asked to make room for the parade of cars. It was right around that moment that Mr. Elliott, who was onstage, heard the shooting to the right of him, coming from behind some food trucks.
He heard what seemed like 12 or 15 shots, he said, but could not make out the shooters. “I seen the after effects of people laying on the ground,” Mr. Elliott said. “I seen a guy laying on the ground and some people helping that guy into a car — maybe a police car.”
Voices rang out, he said, saying, “There’s somebody over there hurt. There’s somebody over here hurt.”
Ms. McKinzie, one of the organizers, said she dropped her food, ran toward a table and heard her boyfriend, Josh Lane, scream: “Get down!”
Her brother flipped a booth on its side and shielded children behind it, she said.
Her cousin and sister were shot amid the mayhem. Both had surgery on Sunday and were expected to fully recover, she said.
Jessica Bass, a Dumas resident, said she believed she saw the start of the altercation, as one man punched another man. The man who was punched, she said, turned and pulled out a handgun and shot the other man in the chest. Her account has not been verified by law enforcement.
Ms. Bass said that a friend who was with her, Cory Everett, was shot twice in the leg, and she recounted how she drove him to Delta Memorial hospital just down the road. There were still blood stains in the back seat of Ms. Bass’s car on Sunday as she talked to a reporter. She said she did not know Mr. Everett’s condition.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock treated six patients under the age of 18 who had gunshot wounds, said Hilary DeMillo, a hospital spokeswoman. Most of the patients were treated and released by late Sunday morning. Kris Love-Keys, the chief development officer for the Hood-Nic Foundation, a local nonprofit that organized the car show, said that the youngest child hurt was 1 year old, the oldest 11.
Col. Bryant identified the dead victim as Cameron Shaffer, 23, of Jackson, Ark. He said local police arrested one person who left the scene and “fit the general description” of one of the suspects. But the arrest, Col. Bryant said, was on charges unrelated to the shooting.
Mr. Lane, an officer for the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Police Department who was in Dumas to spend time with family, said he performed chest compressions on a man who had been shot in his armpit and stomach. He was unsure of the man’s condition on Sunday.
“Just devastating,” he said.
Stephanie Fisher, who grew up in Dumas but now lives in Texas, returns to Dumas for the Hood-Nic event every year. She was there with family on Saturday evening when the shooting started. Her grandson, Frankie Spicer, 11, was shot in his right hand; his half-sister, Aaliyah Spicer, was shot in the left calf. The children’s other grandmother was shot in the stomach.
All three were rushed to Delta Memorial Hospital in Dumas and then transferred to medical centers in Little Rock.
The Hood-Nic group, which promotes nonviolence, said on Facebook that it was “heartbroken and in shock” at the shooting. Wallace McGehee, the car show’s organizer, told television station KARK on Saturday night during the shooting that he was running and trying to “get kids out of the way.”
“When bullets start flying, they don’t” have a name on it, he said.
Vimal Patel and Giulia Heyward contributed reporting.