Gunshots fired at Oakland teen rowing team don't stop it from finishing race

Fred Ackerman heard the gunshots. So did all the parents watching their sons compete for the Oakland Strokes under-17 rowing team during a regatta at the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel last month.

But none of them realized the magnitude of what had happened until hours later.

“One of the moms is looking at this video she shot and noticed that she saw splashes timed with the sounds,” Ackerman told The Times during a phone interview on Monday. “And that’s when she sent it out to the parents WhatsApp group saying, ‘I think our boys were shot at.’ That was a couple hours after the fact.”

That video was shared with The Times by Ackerman. The woman who shot it gave The Times permission to use it but asked for her name to not be included due to safety concerns. In the video, the team is seen coming down the final stretch of its April 20 race when at least six shots are fired, with multiple corresponding splashes occurring next to the boat. No one was injured, and the rowers, who were 15 or 16, continued with the race as if nothing had happened.

Ackerman said he saw his son and his teammates immediately after the race.

“They’re all kind of laughing, like, ‘Aw man, somebody must’ve had a BB gun, we saw the splashes,’” said Ackerman, who requested that his son’s name not be used in the story due to safety concerns. “And I was like, ‘Boys, that was not a BB gun. It was a gun.’ And I was kind of surprised, but you know they’re boys. And you think, oh, maybe the splashes were way away, maybe it’s not related — you just don’t know. And then when I saw the video, though, two hours later, that’s when it really, really hit home.”

According to a news release from the West Sacramento Police Department, officers responded to multiple reports of shots in the area of Industrial and Stone boulevards at around 1:30 p.m. that day. Officers on the ground and in the air conducted “a thorough search” covering “a large proximity with rough terrain in some areas.” The officers found no evidence of a shooting.

Two days later, however, police received a video of the incident obtained by KTXL-TV in Sacramento that showed “that the shots seemed directed towards the rowers,” the Police Department’s release stated. A police report was taken at that time, and the matter was turned over to the investigations unit.

Police told The Times on Monday that the investigations unit was still looking into the matter and that there was no new information to report.

In response to questions from The Times about the incident, the Oakland Strokes emailed a statement.

“On April 20th, at a youth rowing regatta, an incident occurred that is currently being investigated by West Sacramento PD,” the statement reads in part. “We are immensely grateful that all the participants at the event were unharmed. We are also very thankful for the parents’ vigilance in recording and immediately reporting and the swift response of the coaches, the event organizers, and the West Sacramento Police Department.”

Ackerman said he has talked to his son about what happened a few times over the last couple of weeks.

“He said, ‘Honestly, I’m fine. Everyone’s fine. We don’t know what to make of it. No one was hurt. We don’t know why they did it. Because no one was hurt and we don’t know why they did it, none of us are thinking about it,’” Ackerman said. “So I’m glad that they’re not traumatized by it.”

“I want people to be aware. I want people to realize there are guns all around us and all it takes is somebody having a bad moment — they don’t even have to be a bad person. It could’ve been a kid,” Ackerman added. “But I’ve showed this to a number of people who are experienced around guns, and jaws have dropped. Like, who does that?”

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