Without warning, piercing the calm of the sunset, shots rang out Thursday evening near the Oceanside Pier north of San Diego County. The shooting, believed to be gang-related, left one young man dead.
At around 7:20 p.m., officers with the Oceanside Police Department (OPD) rushed to downtown Oceanside to investigate reports of gunfire.
Along the 200 block of N. Strand, at the Junior Seau Amphitheatre, just south of the pier, officers came upon dozens of people scattered about, trying to figure out what had happened.
According to police, a 21-year-old man had been shot, suffering at least one wound. About 25 minutes later, as the victim was airlifted to a hospital, officers confirmed he had died.
No one else was wounded in the shooting.
Police said the victim had been on the top row of bleachers in the amphitheater, just feet from the Oceanside Pier when gunfire erupted. Tom Bussey with the OPD said the victim was with his sister and girlfriend in a small crowd of visitors in the Sunset Market area.
"It was just a rapid fire gun," recounted witness Issac Curtis. "'Bam, bam,' then 'Bam, bam, bam.'"
Quickly, panic set in as witnesses described a chilling realization that something serious had transpired. Some ran for cover. Others were paralyzed with fear.
"As soon as I heard it, I said, 'Oh fireworks,'" witness Tami Smith NBC 7. "My daughter says, 'No mom, that was.' I said, 'Okay, that's it stay here we don't move.'"
The terrifying incident played out in front of dozens of visitors on the pier including children enjoying the evening with their parents.
Mother Candace Ditzler was there with her daughter.
"To see the fear in her face and for [my daughter] to say, 'I never want to come back here,' leaves a huge impact," she told NBC 7. "There's a huge problem in the world, and we need to fix it."
Another witness, a pastor who was at the scene, told NBC 7 the victim and shooter appeared to be arguing just before the shots rang out.
"It looked like they were arguing, but you really can't tell from this far," said Pastor Adam Riojas. "It was just a large crowd."
Bussey confirmed the victim got into some sort of altercation with at least three unknown men. From there, things turned violent.
Riojas, of Cross Church, was officiating services on the beach for about 30 parishioners. Their group was approximately 100 feet from the scene of the shooting. He managed to get a glimpse of the gunman.
"You can't really see faces, but I did see a guy with a white hat running then everybody else is scattering," he told NBC 7.
Police launched a search for the suspect by ground and air but he was not located immediately following the deadly shooting. As of 7 a.m. Friday, he remained at large.
The OPD said the shooting is being investigated as a gang-related homicide, although Bussey said it's too early to determine the motive. He said that, at this time, the shooting is not related to any other homicide cases in the community.
For now, the description of the suspect is vague: a man in his 20s, possibly wearing black clothing. The suspect was accompanied by another man, also believed to be in his 20s.
Police said downtown Oceanside is typically very busy on Thursday nights with various outdoor community activities. The pier is a central attraction.
Hours after the deadly shooting, panic on the pier had subsided but, when visitors contemplate their next visit, many told NBC 7 this day will weigh heavy on their decision.
NBC 7 spoke with locals at the pier Friday who said they don't want their city to be known for gang violence because police have been diligently working to clean up the city.
The investigation is ongoing. The victim's name has not yet been released. Bussey said the victim's girlfriend is four months pregnant with the victim's child.He didn't release any names. But did mention that the victim's girlfriend is 4 months pregnant.