- The Washington Times
Monday, December 2, 2019

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has increased security after teens set off fireworks that frightened patrons and a nearby shooting left two teens hospitalized at the start of the annual ZooLights festival this weekend.

According to a Metropolitan Police report, officers were less than a block away when they heard three gunshots on the 2800 block of Connecticut Avenue NW at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

The officers immediately found one teenager suffering from multiple gunshot wounds and then found another teen with one gunshot wound at the intersections of Calvert and Biltmore streets NW. Both were taken to a hospital.

“We take the incident very seriously,” said Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokeswoman for the National Zoo. “It is my understanding that the two men that were shot at are recovering very well. Our thoughts are with those individuals and their families.”

Earlier Saturday night, groups of juveniles throughout the zoo set off firecrackers. Other visitors thought the small explosions were gunshots and some even called 911, Ms. Baker-Masson said. Police officers already were in the area to help with traffic flow, she added.

Because of the chaos and alarm caused by the firecrackers, zoo officials decided to close the festival an hour early, at about 8 p.m. Saturday. Ms. Baker-Masson estimated that about 20,000 people were in the zoo at the time.

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has not yet determined whether the shooting and the firecracker incident were related. Both are being investigated, police said.

The zoo began making adjustments to its security protocols Sunday. The changes include more zoo security personnel and a heightened presence by the MPD and Metro Transit Police.

In addition, security personnel at the entrance “will conduct a thorough, but speedy, check of all bags, strollers, briefcases, purses and containers and/or be hand-screened with an electronic wand,” the zoo said on its website. “Because of the security measures, the lines for entry to the Zoo may be longer than usual. We ask for your patience, cooperation and assistance in keeping everyone safe.”

Ms. Baker-Masson said zoo officials plan to employ these security measures only when many visitors are expected, such as on the weekends and the days between Christmas and New Year’s.

She said Saturday’s commotion was the first security incident in last 12 years of ZooLights, a holiday festival featuring live music and shopping opportunities amid a display of more than 500,000 LED lights shaped like animals throughout the zoo.

Ms. Baker-Masson said she hopes that the weekend’s incidents do not cause a decline in the festival’s attendance.

“I think that ZooLights is a really special event that serves our extended community, the DMV area,” she said. “We are known for it, we are free and it is a really great family event.”

The festival is conducted daily from 5 to 9 p.m. until Jan. 1, except on Dec. 24, 25 and 31, when the zoo will be closed.

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