Monday, March 4

Musikfest ‘shut down’ after Bethlehem police swarm intersection at popular venue

Bethlehem police converged on a busy intersection at Musikfest shortly before the festival was set to close its northside venues Saturday night in what festival organizers initially described as a “developing situation.”

“There was an isolated incident (Saturday night) at Musikfest and the festival was shut down as a precaution for the safety of patrons,” Bethlehem police Chief Michelle Kott said in a brief news release issued early Sunday morning. “Law enforcement is on site and in control of the situation. There is no known continuing threat to the public. This is an active investigation and no further information will be released at this time.”

The police activity appeared to be centered near the intersection of Main and West Lehigh streets, where Musikfest’s Plaza Tropical is located.

ArtsQuest, which runs the festival, posted the initial alert on its website at 10:54 p.m. indicating that “the City of Bethlehem Police Department and other agencies are responding to the reported incident and are on the scene.”

A shift supervisor for the Northampton County 911 Center, which dispatches for Bethlehem, confirmed the police response to shortly after 11 p.m. but would not provide any information on the nature of the incident.

Mike Cunningham said he was standing in line with friends for Aw Shucks corn when he heard a gunshot.

The 41-year-old Bethlehem resident had toured Musikfest on Saturday with his wife and friends, starting on the Southside, making their way over to Stadtplatz by City Hall and then to Plaza Tropical.

While waiting in line for the roasted corn, Cunningham said he looked over to a group of young people about five to 10 feet away, and told his friends, “it looks like there’s going to be a fight right there.”

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Then he heard someone say “oh s***”, followed by a pop and saw someone stumble.

“I was in the military, I know what a gun sounds like,” said Cunningham, who served in the Air Force. Then he heard someone yell a person was shot.

For a split second Cunningham, a professed big, loud guy, worried about a stampede, but he grabbed his friends and yelled “Move!”

It was chaos as people scattered and ran in all directions, he said.

His group started running toward Festplatz, when Cunnignham realized his wife wasn’t with him. At the same time, police and ArtsQuest staff converged on the area.

“Everybody and their mother just came flooding over there,” he said.

He found his wife and some friends hiding in the weeds behind the Theo’s Gyros stand.

Walking toward the intersection of Main and West Lehigh streets, Cunningham saw the person who stumbled had moved to a grassy area near The Wooden Match parking lot and paramedics were helping them. An ambulance was driving up as police started cordoning off the area.

Cunningham, his wife and friends called others to make sure they were OK. They met a few by Conestoga Street, and joined the crowds walking up the staircase to the Hill-to-Hill Bridge.

The group went to a friend’s house, and Cunningham was still decompressing early Sunday morning.

Musikfest was packed Saturday night; “this might have been the busiest I’ve seen it,” Cunningham said.

Asked if he was planning to go back on Sunday, he said “I’m going to be there. I love Musikfest. I love this town. Of course I’m going to go.”

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As of early Sunday morning, social media was abuzz with chatter about what happened. Facebook and Twitter users who said they were at the festival described a chaotic scene with crowds fleeing from the area of Plaza Tropical.

“Having a great time at Musikfest and within a second everything changed,” one Facebook post read. “Massive stampede … and we almost got trampled. I saw several people with injuries from falling.”

A Twitter user described the situation as “one of the scariest things I’ve experienced.”

WFMZ Channel 69 News reported that the station’s “live camera at the event showed an area of the north side of the festival closed off by police tape and an ambulance close by, as of 11:15 p.m.”

Shortly after midnight, an officer at the scene, which was cordoned off by yellow police tape, told a reporter that police were taking crime scene photos. There was little activity outside the tape. Some patrons at the nearby Wooden Match remained outside, chatting about what may have happened and watching law enforcement work. A few festival food vendors at Plaza Tropical appeared to be closing up their operations for the night.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Musikfest would reopen under normal hours on Sunday, the final day of the 11-day festival that started with a special preview night on Aug. 4. Bethlehem police Capt. Benjamin Hackett told a at the scene early Sunday morning that it’s not the police department’s call.

“We’ll have those discussions with ArtsQuest, but as of right now we don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be (open),” the captain said.

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In the news release, Kott asked that individuals with information and/or videos of the incident contact the Bethlehem Police Tipline 610-997-6660 or email Detective Klingborg at [email protected].

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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