It started as a spontaneous family cookout at a backyard in Pennsylvania. Relatives gathered on a warm night, chatting as they barbecued and played dominoes.
Hours later, gunfire erupted from behind an alley, authorities said.
Men, women and children fled toward the porch, where another attacker waited with an “AK-47-type weapon,” said Stephen Zappala, the district attorney for Allegheny County.
The two gunmen killed six family members at the home in Wilkinsburg, including a woman who was 8-months pregnant.
‘There was fireworks outside’
Jessica Shelton was at the cookout, but left an hour before the shooting Wednesday night.
“I lost three children last night and two nieces … it’s just not right,” a tearful Shelton said at a news conference.
Her children, Brittany Powell, Chanetta Powell and Jerry Shelton died. So did their cousins, Tina Shelton and Shada Mahone.
Chanetta Powell was pregnant, and authorities are counting her fetus as one of the fatalities, Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said.
Shelton’s 6-year-old grandson barely made it out alive, and later told his grandmother what happened.
“He said, ‘Nana there was fireworks outside. ‘Then I see mommy and them all laying on the ground. I didn’t want the bad man to get me so I ran upstairs.’ ”
In addition to the fatalities, three people were also wounded. Two men are in critical condition while one woman was treated and released.
“For these shooters out here … you just didn’t take innocent lives, you made children lose their parents,” Shelton said
Attackers on the run
The unidentified attackers are believed to have escaped on foot and remain at large, authorities said.
Authorities talked to one victim at the hospital, but they don’t have enough for a description, Zappala said.
The attack was the most brutal he’s seen in his 18 years as a district attorney, he said.
“It wasn’t like he was just squeezing shots off randomly,” he said. “They were all head shots. It was premeditated, it was calculated, it was planned.”
Authorities recovered 48 shell casings at the scene.
What was the motive?
Authorities did not release any details on the attackers or whether they knew the victims (if at all).
Zappala said retaliation may be a motive or there may be some sort of drug connection.
“There’s no indication that this was either a stash house or they were running an operation out of here,” he said. “But drugs are definitely in play.”
Jackie Johnson, who lives near the home in the Pittsburgh suburb, said she heard 30 bullets.
“When I came out, people were screaming and running,” Johnson told CNN affiliate KDKA-TV. “And bodies were laying on the … porch.”
Another neighbor said he say a bloody dog run out of the backyard with a bullet falling off its tail.
“People’s lives taken like that, just on the drop of a hat,” Johnson told the affiliate. “It’s just insane. “And it needs to stop. It has to stop.”
Police and other law and enforcement gathered outside the home Thursday, it’s siding pierced by bullets.
A red Bible sat at the doorstep, together with a white teddy bear.
By Faith Karimi
CNN’s Greg Botelho, Emily Smith, Lawrence Crook, Haimy Assefa, Joshua Berlinger and Andy Rose contributed to this report.