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Denver Police Department press conference about the shooting that occurred early June 13 in Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood.

Police have arrested two people after a suspected drug deal led to a mass shooting — wounded at least 1o people, including one of the suspects — in downtown Denver on early Tuesday while thousands of people celebrated the Nuggets’ NBA Finals victory. 

More than 20 rounds were fired from multiple guns after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday near the intersection of 20th and Market streets, Denver police Commander Matt Clark said during a news conference.

Police do not believe the shooting was connected to the celebration, but tied to drug dealing. Police deployed hundreds of officers to prepare for large, boisterous crowds — and the potential for violence — after the game. 

“What we couldn’t have planned for is a drug deal right in the middle of a celebration for an NBA championship,” Denver police Chief Ron Thomas said. “Thankfully we were close enough to be able to respond quickly, take suspects into custody and tend to those that were wounded, but I think that our planning was appropriate.” 

Police arrested Ricardo Vasquez, 22, on charges of possession of controlled substances and weapons as a previous offender, and Raoul Jones, 33, was arrested on a charge of possession of weapons by a previous offender.

One of the suspects was carrying pills, which police believe contained fentanyl, and a firearm.  Crime technicians also found “a significant quantity” of fentanyl pills in the area that were bundled in several baggies, Clark said. 

Officers also believe people inside a car in a nearby parking lot were involved and found a gun in the floorboard of the driver’s seat, he said. The driver was arrested.

At least five or six victims were “completely innocent bystanders,” Thomas said. 

Footage from one of Denver police’s HALO cameras shows dozens of officers responding to shots fired near 20th and Market streets in downtown Denver after thousands celebrated the Denver Nuggets’ win. (Video provided by the Denver Police Department)

“There were literally tens of thousands of people that were in the downtown area that were peacefully celebrating. Unfortunately, there was a small group of individuals that chose to engage in illegal behavior and that went awry and shots were exchanged,” he said. 

Four patients with serious life-threatening injuries required immediate surgery. Five people, including a suspect, are still in the hospital and are in “fair” condition, said Dr. Eric Campion, a surgeon at Denver Health Medical Center.

“I stand here incredibly disappointed that such a wonderful celebration was marred by gun violence when we should have been celebrating the Denver Nuggets,” Campion said. 

Denver Police Department investigators work the scene of a mass shooting along Market Street between 20th and 21st streets during a celebration after the Denver Nuggets won the team’s first NBA Championship early Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Receiving 10 gunshot wound patients at the same time is a challenge for any medical center, he said, saying he was proud of Denver Health Medical  Center’s staff’s swift response. 

“This is something that we drill and prepare for on a weekly and monthly basis,” he said. 

Video footage of the shooting shows dozens of officers lined along the intersection before shots are fired nearby. Two people are seen crouching next to a white sedan in a nearby parking lot.

Armando Saldate, Denver’s director of public safety, said the police department had been working with the city’s paramedics, firefighters and others to create a coordinated plan ahead of the postgame celebration. 

As crowds dispersed, police saw physical fights between people on the streets before the shooting erupted, Saldate said. 

People celebrate after the Denver Nuggets won the NBA Championship with a victory over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Monday, June 12, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The scene was chaotic as victims poured in and first responders tried to get them the care they needed, Saldate said. 

“You saw police officers when gunfire and shots rang out — several shots — you will see our officers all run without hesitation towards those shots, rendering care immediately, life-saving care, and then our paramedics and fire officials getting there and doing life-saving care,” Saldate said. 

Saldate said the city will be “well-staffed” for the large crowd expected to attend Thursday’s parade and that he will revisit plans to make sure the city is prepared for suspicious behavior. 

“It’s our intention and my confidence is that it will be a very safe event. I’ll have my own family there. So I hope that it’ll be a very safe event for all and we’re preparing for that event,” he said. 

Second shooting, hit-and-run on the same night

A second shooting near the intersection of 15th Street and Tremont Place left another person wounded. No suspect information was released. Police did not provide information on the condition of the victim.

Denver City Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez posted photos on Twitter of windows broken by bullets in his office in the Wellington Webb building at 15th Street and Court Place, a block from where the shooting was reported.

People flooded downtown Denver on Monday night after the Nuggets won their first NBA championship in the franchise’s 47-year existence. There were large gatherings of people at intersections across Lower Downtown.

A pedestrian was also seriously injured in a hit-and-run crash near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Broadway just south of downtown.

The suspect vehicle in the hit and run is a white 2004 Acura TL sedan with Colorado license plate CFHC16. Police say the car possibly has damage to its front passenger side.

The police department is asking  for the public’s help in its investigation. Anyone with videos from the downtown celebration is encouraged to send them to the department or anonymously by contacting Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at (720) 613-7867.

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and a wide range of other important issues impacting Coloradans for The Colorado Sun, where she has been a staff writer since 2021. At The Sun, she has covered wildfires, criminal justice, the environment,...

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....