Witnesses say trouble at Milwaukee's 'Swing Park' was only a matter of time

MILWAUKEE -- Residents around the Swing Park where two people were killed say they're not surprised something like this happened.

Though the park has signs saying it closes at 10:00 p.m., they say people come to the Swing Park at all hours of the night. However, it's never been as serious as what happened Monday. 

"This could have come through my bedroom window when I was laying in bed," Lindsey Hermsen said. "My bed is literally parallel with the window."

Hermsen and her roommate Katie Chamberlain live in an apartment next to the Swing Park. They moved in earlier this year and say they were initially excited about the unique use of space below the Holton Street Bridge. 

"It's fun people watching, I could sit out with my coffee in the morning and watch runners," Hermsen said. "In two days, it was taken away from my mind because I just saw what was happening at night."

"There's a lot of ruckus that goes on in the swing park late at night but never to the point of a shooting 100 feet outside of your window," Chamberlain said. "People are out here until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. making noise."

When the shooting erupted around 11:00 p.m., Hermsen and Chamberlain say they heard about six shots. Tuesday morning, it's something that still had them rattled. 

"There were people screaming on the bridge," Chamberlain paused, quietly remembering what she saw less than 12 hours before. "There were people falling and screaming and running this way. It was really sad to me [a child] was probably two or three years old. I don't know if he had a relation to the victim but regardless, a kid like that shouldn't be out here at that time of night. To have to witness something like that at that age is horrifying."

"I was just laying in bed and heard the six pops," Hermsen said. "There was no question it was a gunshot. I looked out my window and immediately saw what looked like significant others screaming and starting CPR on her loved one with a young child standing right next to the adult. That's what struck me most."

Hermsen found her personal and professional lives coming together. She works as an ER nurse. She initially had a feeling of going outside to help the victims. 

"It wasn't safe," Hermsen said. "My initial reaction [was to help], but it just wasn't safe. There were still people and no one in clear custody. You could tell the police were looking for bullets. It's a little too close to home. It really is."

Hermsen says she's likely going to reach out to her Alderman, Nik Kovac about what can be done to make the park safer. 

"There are activities that just have the potential to escalate like this every single night," Hermsen said. "Am I surprised it happened? No."

She, and several other residents, have opinions ranging from shutting down the Swing Park entirely, or adding extra layers of security.

Alderman Nik Kovac says he's aware of the concerns from residents in the area and has spoken to police. He says, law enforcement is aggressively enforcing the 10:00 p.m. curfew at the park and will continue to do so. 

"They're going to be very aggressive with taking care of curfew violations," Kovac said.

Kovac is glad so many people have contacted him and police with concerns. Vigilance like this is what will help lead to a safer park. However, he says there are no plans to eliminate the Swing Park. 

"It's a park that's contiguous with a path," Kovac said. "Initially we were very proud of it. It's a very creative way to re-use public space. We have increased security and not just with police. We've added lighting and cameras and an increased police presence. Any other ideas to make it more secure, we're open to them. You don't close parks because bad things happen. You find a way to keep them open."
 

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