A chaotic and deadly gun battle on E. Third Street apparently began with a minor confrontation between two groups of people who did not know each other before Saturday night, according to Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli.
By the time it ended, about 30 bullets had been fired, a young woman was dead and five men were wounded – one perhaps seriously enough to be paralyzed, according to the DA, who held a news conference Monday to explain what law enforcement knows about the shootout outside of the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society that claimed the life of Yolanda Morales.
Morales, 23, of 1249 Randolf Road, Bethlehem, died of a gunshot wound to her body, according to Lehigh County Coroner Scott M. Grim, who ruled the manner of death a homicide. She was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill less than 20 minutes after she was shot at about 2:21 a.m. Sunday, Grim said.
Investigators are currently in the process of sorting out all of the details of the incident and determining exactly who fired the bullet that killed Morales, Morganelli said. No charges had been filed as of Monday afternoon, the DA said.
“It’s a very complicated scene,” Morganelli said. “Before we can charge, we have to know exactly what happened.”
However, Morganelli said that there has been progress in the investigation and he was confident that charges will be filed by the end of the week.
Both weapons used in the shootout have been recovered and the ballistics are being analyzed, Morganelli said. One gun was voluntarily turned over to Bethlehem Police. The other was recovered from inside the club after a suspect tried to hide it there, Morganelli said.
Police have also retrieved video surveillance footage of the incident, which appears to corroborate most of what police have heard through eyewitness interviews, the DA said.
Two of the three suspected shooters have not been interviewed because they are in serious or critical condition at St. Luke’s University Hospital, Morganelli said. A third shooter – who apparently picked up another shooter’s gun that had been dropped -- perhaps in self-defense or in defense of someone else – has been cooperating with police, Morganelli said.
The incident began as an altercation between two groups of people – one was two men from Allentown, both with criminal records, the other was a group of people from Easton with which Morales was staying, the DA said.
“This seems to be an incidental thing that spilled out into the streets and, unfortunately, went way too far,” Morganelli said. An eyewitness told Nester Video Productions that the eyewitness saw one group of people following a man out of the building and hitting him with a baseball bat.
Morganelli said police believe that Morales followed the altercation out of the building and east on E. Third Street even after it escalated and shots were fired.
It is unclear, however, whether she was a target for a shooter or was caught in crossfire, the DA said.
There is no evidence that the guns had been carried into the club, which has tight security and metal detectors to prevent weapons from being carried in, the DA said. Authorities currently believe the guns were retrieved outside the club, he said.
Morganelli blamed a “culture of violence” for the incident.
“You have these young men who are macho … and they pull out their guns,” Morganelli said. “This is how they handle business.”
None of the six people involved were members of the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society, Morganelli said. Ordinarily a private club that only allows members or friends of members inside, the club threw its doors open, for an admission price, to watch a televised boxing match Saturday night.
The DA said he has advised Bethlehem Police that they may want to talk to the club about discontinuing the practice of opening up the club to non-members on certain nights.
The club has not been a target for Morganelli, who has shut down a number of nuisance bars in the county. The DA said Bethlehem Police have not told him the club has been a problem.