An argument outside a back-to-school party for teenagers erupted into gunfire Monday night, leaving 23-year-old Dechania Edwards clinging to life on a 12th Avenue sidewalk in Newark.
"I just can't believe this happened right in front of my face," said Shakira Nelson, 28, of Newark, who said Edwards stopped by the get-together to see friends. "She died with her eyes open."
Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, said Edwards was shot around 11:16 p.m. She said Edwards was transported to University Hospital in Newark, where she was pronounced dead at 11:32 p.m. Police have not identified a suspect.
On Tuesday afternoon, family and friends gathered outside the house where the party took place. It is a red-brick, two-story home lined with a black wrought-iron fence near the corner of South 7th Street in the city's West Ward.
"She was a good person … a nice person and got along with everyone," said William Miller, 23, of Newark. Miller said Edwards was the mother of his six-year-old son.
Four candles made a square below a makeshift memorial attached to a tree on the sidewalk. The memorial included an opened cardboard box with scrawled messages of remembrance, a white teddy bear with Edwards' picture tied to its neck and metallic balloons strung from tree branches.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker confirmed Tuesday to Patch that there was a party where the shooting occurred, but declined to go into details, "It's just another example of unacceptable violence."
Nelson, who said she was Edwards' sister-in-law, said the shooting started after an argument between a man who was at the party and a man on the street. She called the shooting "gang affiliated" and said Edwards was a bystander, "It could have been any of us."
Carter said police are investigating the possibility that Edwards was not the intended target, but the spokeswoman would not comment on whether the shooting was gang related.
Family members told this reporter that Edwards' mother was too distraught to talk about the incident.
Pamela Cresbo, 15, of Newark, lives across the street from where Edwards was gunned down. She said she heard two gun shots and then saw a man run down the street, "I heard screaming and then I looked out my window, saw a woman on the (ground) and then people started chasing a man down the block."
Cresbo said the house is infamous for parties, "When the parties are over, they fight and leave in their cars." She said Monday night's party started around 8 p.m.
A man, who declined to give his name, said his organization, Circle Boys, hosted the party. On the social networking site Facebook, an organization by that name states it hosted a party at the same 12th Avenue location in July.
"We throw parties for youths to have fun and keep the younger generation out of trouble," the man said.
Booker said the city witnessed a 50 percent drop in shootings the past 28 days in August, compared to the same time period last year. So far this month, six people have been killed in gun-related violence, bringing the summer total to 20.