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Shock and sadness replace Super Bowl euphoria in Kansas City, one week after the big game

By Ray Sanchez, CNN

Kansas City, Missouri (CNN) — Outside the limestone exterior of the century-old Union Station at the southern edge of downtown, a light snowfall washed away the dried blood from the pavement.

The euphoria that swept this city after back-to-back Super Bowl wins by its beloved Chiefs now seemed a distant memory, supplanted by shock and sadness. A deadly shooting at the hometown victory celebration outside the monolithic train depot left one woman dead, more than 20 other people injured – about half of them children – and two teenagers in custody facing gun-related and other charges.

“I think we will be even stronger because of the resistance to a bad person taking away something that’s good, fighting through it and taking it back,” said Joseph Lyons, 53, carrying his 5-year-old son at the entrance to the station’s grand hall.

Lyons and his wife had not told their two young children about the mass shooting that happened just two days earlier. So Friday afternoon he chose his words carefully. His voice quavered with emotion at one point. The boy listened; his 3-year-old sister played with friends nearby.

“I mean there’s good and bad in every location. And I think it’s almost like people are going to be out more, to say, ‘I’m not afraid.’ Yeah, we’re here and it was like right outside that door,” he said of the barrage of gunfire that sent thousands of parade-goers in red jerseys running for safety. “We’re going to enjoy Kansas City. It’s our town.”

‘Felt like God is smiling on us’

For many of Kansas City’s more than half a million residents, their obsessive love affair with the Chiefs crescendoed with the overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers one week ago. The community spirit, along with the fortunes and economy, of this oft-forgotten Midwestern city soared with the birth of a sports dynasty: Three Super Bowl wins in five seasons.

“God, I mean, this town was on a sugar high,” said Melinda Henneberger, a Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist at The Kansas City Star.

“People were just really feeling such spirit. It kind of reminded me of hearing about when 9/11 happened. The first thing everyone said was, What a gorgeous day it was… I think people felt like, God is smiling on us.”

Last Wednesday, under the bright winter sunshine and temperatures in the 60s, the city threw a massive party. A sea of fans wearing red, gold and white waved at the triumphant players and coaches riding double-decker buses and open-topped SUVs down Grand Boulevard.

Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, Taylor Swift’s beau and tight end Travis Kelce and head coach and football genius Andy Reid waved back at the adoring crowd packed more than a dozen rows deep. The victory parade ended with a rally outside the historic Union Station – which, after decades of deterioration, was redeveloped with restaurants, shops and a science center to become of symbol of the city’s resurgence.

“These are good guys,” Henneberger said of the stubborn and likable Chiefs. “I’m not really a football person. You know, I might be pilloried for saying that. But even I have to watch this team. They’re so graceful and they’re good people. That matters.”

About 2 p.m., gunfire erupted on the west side of Union Station – an all-to-familiar occurrence in a country that has seen about 50 mass shootings in 2024, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It was the second shooting in a year at a major US sports title celebration after two people were wounded in June as Denver fans left a parade for the NBA’s Nuggets.

‘What is the meaning behind all this?’

The shots exploded near Liliana Villela, 40, who came out with her husband to sell Chiefs’ ponchos, mariachi hats and other apparel imported from their native Mexico and stacked on a dolly she parked near the rally stage. The gunfire seemed to coincide with the explosion of giant confetti cannons. The crowd began to disperse in a chaotic scene.

“It sounded like pop, pop, pop, pop,” said Villela, speaking in Spanish at the same spot outside Union Station one day after the shooting, the pavement still stained with blood.

“People were screaming and running. It was confusing. I turned around and saw a man on the ground facedown, bleeding from his back. Another man went down over there. A woman was on the ground near him. My ears were ringing.”

Her husband, Alvaro Rosas, 40, had been selling the $40 ponchos across the street. At first, he said, he thought his wife was being robbed but realized it was much more than that when he ran past five or six people on the ground.

In a pool of blood not far away was Rosas’ close friend, Elizabeth “Lisa” Lopez-Galvan, a 43-year-old mother of two and beloved Kansas City-area DJ and radio show host. She had been fatally shot. She was at the rally with a large group of friends and family, including her husband, daughter and 22-year-old son. He was shot in the lower leg and later released from a hospital. Two young girls related to her were also injured.

Rosas said he had known Lopez-Galvan for about seven years. She mentored him at an employment agency. Just before her death, he sold her a poncho at a discount and she immediately slipped it on. On his cell phone, Rosas showed a brief phone call he received from her at 1:28 p.m. She told him she wanted another poncho for her cousin but she never arrived to pick it up. The next day, he stood over a patch of dried blood on the pavement where she died.

“Coming back here will help me remember her,” he said. “This was the last place I saw her, the last place we said hi and hugged each other. She was here. You don’t want anyone to die but I keep asking God, ‘Why Lisa? What is the meaning behind all this?’”

Across the street, a Chiefs’ camping folding chair still sat open, facing Union Station amid several empty beer cans and bags of chips. Nearby, a pair of boots were tucked neatly against a building.

Rosas said he is not a football fan but his family’s financial well-being, like that of the city’s – from food and souvenir vendors to downtown restaurants and hotels – benefited from the success of the Chiefs. They have a nice SUV. Their kids go to a private school – which unlike Kansas City’s public schools – did not shut down the day of the parade and rally.

“We’re blessed our children were not here,” he said. “I hope the Chiefs win another Super Bowl, but I won’t be coming to another parade.”

‘Children are more important than our guns’

On Wednesday, the nine children who had been shot – along with three others who were injured– were rushed to nearby Children’s Mercy hospital, which sits on a hill overlooking downtown Kansas City.

The next evening a group of about 100 people gathered for a vigil at a plaza adjacent to the hospital. Religious leaders and community activists said prayers while holding candles that glowed like fireflies in the winter chill.

Jackie Batista-Martinez, a 26-year-old public health researcher, and her friend Abbey Lewis, a 22-year-old who works in a record store, draped a blanket over their shoulders during the brief somber event that stood in stark contrast to the previous day.

Batista-Martinez recalled being on a hill looking down at the jubilant crowds around Union Square with a friend but leaving early because they got hungry.

“My friend got a call from her dad. He said, ‘Hey, are you guys ok?’” she remembered. “‘We’re fine. What are you talking about?’ At first, we didn’t believe him because he said there was a shooting. We’re like, ‘It’s Kansas City. There’s a shooting all the time.’”

Guns are everywhere in Kansas City, Batista-Martinez said.

“I mean, I was at a party in December, and I heard a girl say, ‘Oh, where’s my gun?’ And I was like, I don’t feel safe. That’s how it is here.”

Kansas City has long struggled with gun violence. It had a record high 182 homicides last year, according to police. Most of them involved shootings. And Missouri has some of the weakest gun laws in the country.

The state’s lax gun laws have allowed firearms to reach criminals through legal gun owners by way of theft, private sales and straw buyers, according to experts.

The state’s 2007 repeal of an 80-year-old permit-to-purchase law led to a double-digit percentage increase in the gun homicide rate, Everytown for Gun Safety reported.

The gun control advocacy nonprofit said Missouri lacks any “of the foundational gun violence prevention laws” – including passing background checks and/or purchase permitting, and secure gun storage requirements.

“There has to be a point at which we say our children are more important than our guns.” Henneberger said. “But I just haven’t seen the turn made yet… Do I have even a glimmer of hope that this will change something? No.”

‘Nothing’s going to change’

Agustin Lopez, 82, who was born and has lived in the area his entire life, watched the Super Bowl rally and parade in the food court of a downtown mall where six people were wounded by gunfire in January.

“I was shocked it happened but I wasn’t surprised because this is kind of what’s going on around the country,” he said of Wednesday’s shooting. “I don’t know about gun laws but the guns are coming from somewhere. Everybody’s got guns now. All these teenagers are getting guns.”

Lopez said he has a conceal permit for two pistols that he owns and occasionally takes with him when he goes out at night.

“Nothing’s going to change,” said Lopez, sitting alone over a beer at the bar of a downtown restaurant one night after the shootings. “You can talk about tougher gun laws and this kind of crap. All the guns are out there already.”

At Union Station on Friday afternoon, Lyons, his two children and some friends visited the science center and had lunch on a bench at the entrance to the restored grand hall with 95-foot ceilings

“We’re not going to be afraid to go out,” he said, again choosing his words carefully with his children nearby. “We just want to be out having fun and enjoying our city. We don’t want one bad thing to take over and ruin it for everybody. I mean, Kansas City is happening.”

Said Henneberger, “Obviously, it’s going to be a long time before anybody feels like this is over. And, of course, for some families, it will never be over. That’s the worst part.”

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