Home News One killed, seven injured in Oklahoma Memorial Day festival shooting

One killed, seven injured in Oklahoma Memorial Day festival shooting

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Cathy Spaulding

Muskogee Phoenix, Okla.

Memorial Day weekend has long been a special time for the tiny northeast Oklahoma community of Taft.

“You meet with your family and friends,” Sandra Titsworth said. “You meet with loved ones you hadn’t seen in years. It’s real special.”

A midnight shooting, which killed one woman and injured seven other people, cut through the joyous occasion Saturday night in this town of about 125 people, 16 miles west of Muskogee. According to a media release by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the deceased is a 39-year-old.

Her identity was confirmed as Sherika Bowler. Former Early Childhood Center Principal Debra HorseChief said that Bowler had in the past been a teacher’s assistant. HorseChief said she was called at 1:30 a.m. Sunday and was asked to pray for Bowler.

A suspect, Skylar Buckner, 26, surrendered to Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation at 4:05 p.m. Sunday, according to an OSBI media release.

According to the OSBI release, one juvenile was among the seven injured. The injured ranged in age from 9 to 56.

Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service spokeswoman Trish German said two people were transported to a Muskogee hospital and a third was taken to a Tulsa hospital. Others were taken by private transportation to a local hospital. The OSBI said the injuries were not life-threatening.

“The shooting occurred at an annual Memorial Day event with 1,500 people in attendance,” according to the release. “The festival took place at the Old City Square. Witnesses say that just after midnight there was an argument and then gunfire erupted. The Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office was in attendance at the event and immediately rendered aid to the victims.”

Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Edwards said on Sunday afternoon that the investigation continues.

Edwards said four different types of casings, 40 casings in total, were found at the scene.

“It’s a miracle it was not worse,” Edwards said.

Remaining Memorial Day celebrations, including a parade, have been called off out of respect for the victims, said Taft Mayor Vernon Curl. He called the shooting a tragedy.

On Monday, Green Country Behavioral Health will offer counseling and help to children and parents traumatized by the shooting, said Muskogee Mayor Marlon Coleman. Counselors will be available noon to 3 p.m. Monday at GCBH, 619 N. Main St.

“Only those who need to be there will be allowed on the site,” Coleman said. “No appointment needed.”

Titsworth, who operated a food trailer along Seminole Street east of Main Street during Saturday’s celebration, recalled hearing the shots while she was cooking. She said it began to get crazy around 11:45 p.m. Saturday.

“There were so many gunshots, it didn’t make sense,” she said. “There were a bunch of people.”

“When my daughter got ready to open this door, I pulled her back down to the floor,” because of all the gunfire,” she said. “If I hadn’t have grabbed my daughter, she probably would have gotten shot.”

Titsworth recalled seeing many spent bullets around the streets. including one by the trailer door.

She showed one bullet casing by a trailer door.

Jordan Presley said the celebration had been “a great event” earlier Saturday night.

“It was our first one back from COVID,” Presley said. “It was bigger than usual, and everything was going just fine and some knuckleheads just, you know.”

Presley, who works for the town, said at least 1,000 people were in town Saturday night, and streets and a small park were packed along several blocks of Seminole Street.

He recalled walking across a street when he heard shots.

“Everybody was in shock at first. No one really got down because it doesn’t happen out here. It’s a very quiet town,” he said.

Presley said Muskogee County Sheriff’s officers were in town during Saturday night’s celebration.

Muskogee resident Harold Cotton recalled hearing shots behind him as he was going to his car. He said he kept moving. He said he saw one man with blood on his legs.

Triimain Bates, who operated the Fatt Fries food trailer along Main Street, said people ducked when the shooting started.

“A lot of kids everywhere, kids with their parents,” he said, indicating how the gunfire was spread out over several blocks.

Bates recalled seeing a woman shot in the head and a little girl being shot down the road.

Presley said the Memorial Day gathering is a tradition.

“Every year, since I was a little kid, I used to come to these,” he said. “You see people you haven’t seen in a while. It’s like a big family reunion. They’ve got good food, good music, great energy until the wrong people get here.”

He said the wrong people don’t come often.

“It’s a great town, great to live out here,” he said.

Tony Folks said his 8-year-old niece was shot in the thigh and was taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa.

He said Bowler was his cousin.

“She has a little daughter who is three or four years old,” he said.

Folks, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in the nearby community of Boynton, said the church drummer, Tyran Bryant, got shot in the shoulder but is doing okay and has gone home from the hospital.

Folks said he often comes to Taft’s weekend celebrations.

“I never go downtown until last night,” he said, adding that he left around 10:30 p.m. He said he had visited his little niece on the front yard of a house.

“I gave her some strawberries earlier that day,” he said.

The pastor said people at his church’s Sunday worship talked and prayed about the shooting.

“The enemy is just on the move,” he said. “People can’t go around hurting people. It’s just not right.”

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(c)2022 the Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, Okla.)

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