City officials reviewing shooting response, park security

City leaders are reviewing security measures at Lincoln Park following Tuesday night’s shooting in which four victims were shot while playing basketball, at a time the park was filled with visitors playing softball, kickball and skating at the Hamilton Ice Arena.

“This is a tragedy that we had hoped would never show up in Columbus, but here it is,” said Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop.

Both the park and the nearby Hamilton Community Center and Ice Arena are currently open, said Columbus Parks Director Mark Jones. The department does not plan to change the park’s hours at this time.

“Our prayers go out to the victims and the families,” said Jones. “And there were a number of spectators that were present at the time of the incident, both, again, at Lincoln as well as Hamilton.”

Moving forward, the city will continue to review the incident and provide counseling to witnesses and those who were among the first responders to the scene, Lienhoop said.

While they do not expect further incidents, Jones said there will be extra Columbus Police Department patrols around the park for the “foreseeable future.”

“We just got the lighting at Hamilton. We have recently, over the last couple of years, put in cameras inside and out. So we’ve got some outside cameras. … There’s no cameras currently at Lincoln Park, the diamonds themselves.”

There are no security cameras in the area where the shooting occurred, he said.

However, Lienhoop noted that there are cameras at a nearby Columbus City Utilities facility.

In general, the mayor said the city will look to Columbus Police Department for its analysis of the situation, including whether Lincoln Park, and this shooting site in particular, warrants special attention.

He noted that it’s a “difficult balance” to keep park visitors safe while also providing drive access to amenities within the park.

Another challenge, he said, is prevention.

“It’s really a difficult challenge to prevent an act like that,” he said. “I just don’t know how we will ever get to the place where we know in advance that something like this will occur and then be able to arrest the person before they shoot. We don’t really have that ability.”

Still, Jones and the mayor praised city employees for their response during the shooting.

Lienhoop said that first responders and city employees have been trained in preparation for such events and that parks staff did “exactly what they were trained to do” in terms of protecting visitors who were indoors, locking the doors and notifying authorities.

“I’m sorry that we had to respond but pleased with the quality of the response that we were able to provide,” said Lienhoop.

“We had many city employees who acted quickly to ensure the safety of the persons in the park, as well as a large group of people at Hamilton,” said Jones. “We had a number of employees actually helping the victims out. So I was really impressed with how our staff handled a really, really tough situation.”

The parks department’s main goal is to take care of the employees and spectators who were present during the shooting, Jones said. The city is working to provide counseling to city employees at Lincoln and Hamilton. They are also reaching out to the Columbus Softball Association and a kickball league, as there were multiple games underway on nearby ball diamonds when the shooting occurred.

In discussing the event, Lienhoop said it seems to him that the shooting was “not a random drive-by.”

“This was a personal dispute among some individuals,” he said. “And so, unfortunately, it played out in public with deadly weapons. And so, again, I hate to see that happen in our city, but we’ll deal with it and try to work our way through.”

This isn’t the first time there has been a violent attack in the vicinity of Lincoln Park. In October of 2020, professional ice skater and instructor Emma Baxter-Valbuena was assaulted outside of the Hamilton Center.

Ryan T. Halligan admitted to attempting to murder Baxter and accepted a plea agreement for the conviction. He was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison, pay Baxter about $10,000 in restitution for the four months of work she missed while recovering from extensive injuries, and pay $7,000 to the owner of a stolen car that he crashed during the attack.

Among the injuries listed by both Baxter and then-deputy prosecutor Joshua Scherschel were 14 knife wounds, a punctured lung, a cracked skull and a concussion.

Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge James Worton called the attack “one of the worst, if not the worst, crime I’ve seen while I’ve been on the bench.” He said that a key factor making the crime so terrible is that the attacker and victim had never met prior to the attack.

While making a statement to the court, Halligan’s apology included the statement that he was on illegal drugs that day, and had not taken his prescribed medication.

About six months after the attack, Columbus City Council approved an appropriation from the General Fund Capital Improvement Fund for security upgrades at Hamilton. Jamie Brinegar, who was the city’s director of finance, operations and risk at the time, said the funds would go to additional lighting at the circle drive and security cameras at the facility.