Two people were shot and killed, one an 11-year-old girl, and three others injured early Sunday in east Columbia in what police Chief Geoff Jones described at an afternoon press conference as an act of senseless gun violence.


Jones identified the victims killed as 38-year-old Tara L. Knedler and Ri’ajauhna, 11, whose last name is not being disclosed in accordance with the wishes of her family.


Three others were injured by gunfire and two treated at a local hospital for what were described as non-life threatening injuries. The fifth gunshot victim declined medical treatment and spoke with officers later at the police station.


Police said the shooting happened at 12:15 a.m. Sunday near the intersection of Volunteer Drive and Grace Lane. In addition to the two people killed, the three people injured include a 40-year-old female, 22-year-old male and a female whose age is unknown.


One person is detained in the incident and another is being questioned, Jones said, but an arrest had not been made at the time of the 3 p.m. press conference. He said two weapons were fired, but investigators are working to ascertain if the actions of both were criminal in nature.


Jones said preliminary information shows the shooting may have occurred after someone unintentionally shot a firework toward a household, but cautioned the investigation was still in the early stages.


"I know there were fireworks being used, and I think someone may have shot one in the direction of another household unintentionally," he said. "That is the information I have right now. It is preliminary information, and I don’t know if it is accurate."


Police provided emergency aid to the victims, as medics felt it was unsafe, and staged nearby and waited for officers to secure the scene, Jones said. In an effort to save the victims, police transported all four of them directly to the hospital.


"They (medics) did not, according to information I have, believe that it was stable enough to enter the scene," Jones said. "So officers were giving trauma care at the scene and providing CPR.


"Instead of transporting outside of the area to someone else, things were dire, especially with the juvenile, so they decided to transport her straight to the hospital, as we would if another police officer was shot."


The chief also sought to dispel rumors the shootings were linked to the city’s controversial firework wars, saying that was not the case. People in the area were lighting fireworks, but the shots were not linked to one of the annual street battles.


"There had been some rumor that this was a fireworks war, and it was gunshots," Jones said. "I just wanted to clear that up."


Jones described the shooting as another act of senseless gun violence, as did Columbia Mayor Brian Treece in a news release issued after the press conference.


"The celebrations families enjoyed were shattered last night by senseless gun violence," Treece said in the release. "Once again, our community and these families must deal with the unimaginable pain of the loss of a loved one.


"Now more than ever our community must come together to say with one unified voice that violent crime must stop," he said.


ppratt@columbiatribune.com