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Police chief told location of alleged mass shooting was unknown before press conference

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith speaks at a press conference.
At a July 6 press conference, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith credited an anonymous “hero citizen” with calling in a tip regarding a planned July 4 shooting at Dogwood Dell amphitheater. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith was told minutes before a controversial press conference on July 6 that an alleged mass shooting plot’s location was unknown, according to talking points acquired by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and published Friday. Despite that, Smith told reporters the shooting was planned for a July Fourth event at Dogwood Dell.

The reporting deepens controversy surrounding the police’s handling of the press conference and leadership’s communication to residents about public safety. At the time,  Smith told reporters at Richmond Police headquarters that a mass shooting at the Dogwood Dell Amphitheater had been averted thanks to a tip received on July 1. That allegation quickly became the subject of intense scrutiny by the public and the media.  

More details about the tip were also contained in the reporting by the Times-Dispatch. The tip, which was in Spanish, “did not include specifics on location, time or intended targets,” the talking points said. 

The Richmond police department denied a Freedom of Information request from VPM News for audio of the tip, saying it is “part of an ongoing criminal investigation or proceeding.”

Two men, Julio Alvarado-Dubon and Rolman A. Balacarcel, were arrested within a week, but Richmond prosecutors did not present evidence of a mass shooting plot in an August court hearing. 

The two still face federal immigration charges. Balcarcel-Bavagas pleaded guilty to an immigration charge on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

The Times-Dispatch’s reporting also raised the question of why the event named as the intended or likely target wasn’t canceled.   

The City’s Chief Administrative Officer, Lincoln Saunders, told the Times-Dispatch that neither he nor Mayor Levar Stoney suggested Dogwood Dell as the location.  

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.