“The kid died in my lap”: witnesses describe tragedy, mayhem as 3 shot in Bush’s Pasture Park

Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of a shooting and injuries sustained by victims.

Salem police are investigating a Thursday afternoon shooting in Bush’s Pasture Park that left one person dead, two boys injured, a high school and hospital in lockdown and chaos in one of the city’s most storied parks.

Police responded to the shooting around 1:45 p.m. in the area of Southeast High and Leffelle Streets at the south edge of Bush’s Pasture Park. 

Witnesses reported in interviews hearing several gunshots and seeing what appeared to be teenagers scattering in several directions. Others reported seeing two teens in police custody at the park’s northwest corner.

An hour after the shooting, Paul Stanley stood at the edge of Bush’s Pasture Park with mud staining both knees. Concern etched his features as he called for his dog Ruger.

Less than 50 yards away lay a body bag.

“The kid died in my lap,” he said, glancing again at the place of death, outlined in rings of red and yellow police tape.

Stanley had been walking his dogs, and said he saw two “kids” approach a group of “kids” that were sitting on a bench. Suddenly there was shooting.

“I went running over to help the kid that went down, and these guys went running off,” he said. “It’s just a damn shame that kids don’t understand life is so precious, you know?”

He said he believes several more got hit by stray bullets. He saw one taken out on a stretcher.

Stanley’s dog, an Australian Shepherd with blue eyes, ran away during the shooting and was missing as of Thursday evening. 

The 90-acre park features several picnic areas and paved paths that wind through oak woodlands. The park is bounded by residences on all sides, including along its south edge on Leffelle Street. A playground, picnic area and restroom are at the south end.

The Bush Barn Art Center and Bush House Museum anchor the northwest corner of the park, with the Soap Box Derby track and McCulloch Stadium to the east of them.

Salem police were investigating a shooting on Thursday, March 7, at Bush’s Pasture Park. South Salem High School, three blocks from the park boundary, was put in lockdown. (Google Maps)

Patricia Peterson parked on the south end of the park at 1:30 p.m. and saw around a dozen teen boys near the top of a hill. She took her dog out of the car to go for a walk and headed down the path toward the teens.

“I didn’t think anything of it because it’s really common to see teenagers at that park during the day,” she said.

Peterson could smell marijuana as she walked past the teens. She made it about 20 feet down the hill when she started to hear around seven or eight shots ring out in rapid succession. She grabbed her dog and jumped behind a tree.

“As soon as those shots went out, you could hear running and screaming,” she said.

She saw one group of teens run north, while the other group took off south into the neighborhood.

Just after the shooting, Peterson turned around and ran up the hill back toward the teens. She saw one boy against a tree. He was repeatedly screaming, “Help me! Help me! I’ve been shot!”

As other witnesses called 911, she ran to the boy. “I’m a doctor, how can I help you?” she said. The boy pulled his pants down and she saw a gunshot wound on his abdomen, just below the beltline. She asked someone nearby to hold pressure on the wound. 

Peterson ran to another boy, who was face down about 15 feet away. When she couldn’t see gunshots on his back or neck, she flipped him over and told him she was there to help him.

“He looked me in the eye and blinked a couple times,” Peterson said. “I pulled his clothes up so I could see his chest and tummy because there was blood everywhere, and he’d been shot in the left chest.”

The boy’s pulse was slow and thready. She and another person lifted his head to help him breathe. 

“I kept saying, ‘Stay with me. Stay with me,’” she recalled. “He lost consciousness, and then we lost a pulse.” 

Police pronounced the boy dead just before 2 p.m. He appeared no older than 15, Peterson said.

Carol Mitchell was parked on Leffelle Street at the edge of the park at 1:25 p.m. She was waiting for a friend so they could walk their dogs when she noticed a group of teenagers in hoodies gathered in the park.

It didn’t seem unusual, Mitchell said. She often encounters groups there smoking marijuana. Her friend was late, so she drove down Northeast Cottage Street a block away to her house.

They met up around 15 minutes later and started toward the park. They almost got to Cross Street when suddenly, they heard rapid-fire gunshots. Then came the sound of screams.

The two women ran back to the friend’s house, turned to look back and saw kids “running madly” past trees through the park. They locked the doors and called 911, watching from their windows as Salem police officers, Marion County Sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and federal agents converged on the park.

One witness said officers responded so rapidly she smelled the rubber from their tires.

A class of special education students had been in the park when the shooting started, said Matthew Boulay, executive director at the Salem Art Association. They, along with others who had been walking nearby, took refuge at the art museum, which sits near the west edge of the park.

“My staff got these students paper and pencil and they just sat on the floor and drew and colored during all of this. It just felt like a little bit of safety in this awful world,” he said. 

Boulay later said he asked responding officers if they were okay. He said it appeared the officers were trying not to burst into tears.

Police tape marked off an area of Bush’s Pasture Park along Southeast Leffelle Street following a shooting the afternoon of Thursday, March 7. (Abbey McDonald/Salem Reporter)

South Salem High School went into lockdown within minutes of the shooting. The school is three blocks south of the park.

Students and teachers barricaded themselves in classrooms. One teacher handed out bats and shovels to students.

Tara Romine, school principal, said in a later message to families that the school locked down after a report that people involved in the shooting may have come on campus. 

Police investigated and there was never an active shooter at the school, Romaine said. The lockdown prompted some anxious parents to gather around Bush’s Pasture Park, seeking updates. Students and staff inside the school remained safe.

Police said there were three shooting victims, all male. One died, and two boys were taken to Salem Hospital for treatment. Their medical condition was unknown.

The shooting comes less than 24 hours after city officials conducted a community meeting to unveil their strategy to deal with gun violence in Salem. A city report issued last fall documented a growing number of shootings involving juveniles as both the shooters and the victims.

Police said they had not confirmed the age of the person who died.

Salem Hospital’s adjacent campus went into lockdown at 2:39 p.m. due to the shooting. Hospital officials didn’t confirm the lockdown publicly until after it lifted around 4 p.m.

Salem Health spokeswoman Lisa Wood said there was no “immediate known threat” to Salem Hospital but it went into lockdown “out of an abundance of caution.”

By 3 p.m., two teenagers in white t-shirts were handcuffed and sitting on the sidewalk near the intersection of Southeast Mission Street and Southeast Church Street.

The South Salem lockdown was lifted around 3:20 p.m. and students were dismissed. After school activities were canceled. Romine said the school will have additional counseling available for students on Friday and encouraged parents to reach out if they feel their children need additional support.

The state Department of Human Services’ office at 1660 Oak St. S.E. was also placed on lockdown “due to an active incident,” the agency said on X just after 3:30 p.m. It reopened around 10 minutes later. 

The office is just to the east of the hospital.

The portion of the park known as Upper Leffelle remained closed late Thursday afternoon, and police asked neighbors to avoid the area while they search for a suspect.

Salem police spokeswoman Angela Hedrick said she had no information about whether a suspect had been arrested.

Managing Editor Rachel Alexander contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053. Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.