Survivors of a shooting at a crowded poolside birthday party returned to the University City apartment complex Tuesday with a unified message — race played a role.
They spoke of their grief, and their desire to connect with counselors to help them untangle their trauma. But their primary goal was to publicly state that they felt the shooting was racially motivated.
“As additional factors come in, we realize there are multiple components to this problem, but we feel heartbreak in the fact that [police are] trying to dismiss a part of the motive,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Lauren Chapman, who attended the party.
About a dozen people participated in the gathering, which was held on a grassy outcropping at the La Jolla Crossroads Apartments. The pool area was a distant backdrop. Although none had been injured when 49-year-old Peter Selis started shooting Sunday night, all were there.
Most of the 30 or so people who attended the party were black or Latino. Selis was white, and all but one of the victims were people of color.
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said a day after the shooting that there was “zero information” indicating the crime was racially motivated. She also said Selis, who was fatally shot by police, was despondent over a recent breakup. He called and spoke to his ex-girlfriend during the incident so she could hear “his rampage.”
Records show Selis also faced serious financial troubles, filing bankruptcy in 2009 and again in 2015. He owed substantial amounts of money to medical groups, credit card companies and creditors, according to court documents.
A number of black community leaders questioned how police could have come to their conclusions so quickly.
“How, in less than 24 hours, did Shelley Zimmerman come to the result that there was no hate involved in this?” said Shane Harris, president of the San Diego Chapter of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization.
San Diego Police Capt. Brian Ahearn said Tuesday that the investigation continues and is expected to take weeks. Police again asked for anyone who may have information about the shooting to come forward.
At Tuesday’s gathering at the Judicial Drive complex, several speakers recounted details that led them to believe race was a factor in the shooting.
While the birthday party was about 20 feet away from Selis, two white women who were closer were seemingly dismissed as targets. Selis also did not fire at a white security guard who, from the other side of a fence, ordered him to drop his gun after the shooting began.
Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.