ArtsQuest, a nonprofit organization that provides arts and education to the Lehigh Valley community, hosts many local and cultural events throughout the year. These include CelticFest, Oktoberfest and Musikfest: the nation’s largest free music festival.
At Musikfest, people from the greater Lehigh Valley area, including Lehigh students, come together at the Bethlehem SteelStacks to enjoy free music.
At this year’s festival in August, however, gunshots were fired, injuring an attendee.
But Bethlehem’s cultural and local citywide events are still scheduled for the upcoming year with no new security provisions as of now.
Musikfest has been running consecutively for 38 years and has always been free to the public. There are no barriers to entering the festival, such as turnstiles, metal detectors or gated-off areas.
Political science professor and city planning expert Karen Pooley said, despite significant police presence at the event, these were factors that contributed to the shooting.
“The police are walking around all the time,” Pooley said. “I think at an event this large, it’s more about being ready to respond quickly.”
Capt. Nicholas Lechman of the Bethlehem Police Department said the primary goal of the police presence at these events is to handle current incidents and to move people away as quickly as possible.
Some festival-goers were left confused after the shooting.
Ariana Simms, ‘23, said she attended Musikfest with some friends on the day of the shooting.
“I didn’t hear any gunshots, then suddenly it seemed like hundreds of people just started running towards us,” Simms said. “I tried to get somebody to say what was happening — I asked, ‘why is everybody running?’”
Simms said she and the people around her did not know what happened at the time. She researched the incident later that night but was unable to find any information.
Lechman said BPD responded well to the event and minimized as much harm as possible.
“We provide additional training for officers in crowd-control measures for Musikfest,” Lechman said. “We have to watch what’s going on throughout other parts of the county to see how police departments are responding to these situations and using that as a learning experience for us to look at best practices for responding to these situations.”
Pooley said Musikfest brings over one million people to the Bethlehem area. After 30 years of millions of people attending the event, she said it is impressive there has only been one incident.
To keep the festival as accessible as possible, Pooley said there is not much else to be done that doesn’t require people to wait in long lines.
“When you have a lot of people doing the right thing, it makes doing the wrong thing a little trickier,” Pooley said. “There are also signs encouraging people to say something if they see something out of the ordinary.”
Simms went back to Musikfest again the following day and said she is excited to go to more local events.
She said there were no new protocols outwardly in place the next day, but the police were carrying larger guns and their presence was more prominent.
Simms said her only wish for BPD is to communicate incidents like this in a more timely manner and to provide clarity to the situation as soon as possible.
BPD is considering researching security measures that can be taken to ensure this does not happen again, but Lechman said they currently do not have any measures in mind.
As for the greater Lehigh Valley, Pooley said she does not believe the area is a place where people should be alarmed about gun violence.
“Concern about gun violence is as much a reality and an issue in the Lehigh Valley that it is anywhere else,” Pooley said. “That said, a lot of communities in our region are creating efforts to better engage community members to figure out alternatives for problem-solving to reduce traumatic incidents where someone is shot, hurt or killed.”