Celebratory July 4th Gunfire Kills North Carolina Woman

Police in North Carolina said a 74-year-old woman was killed after being hit by celebratory gunfire on the Fourth of July.

Officers responded to an address in the 500 block of Burlington Avenue in Durham at around 11 p.m. on Saturday night, Durham Police said in a news release.

There, they found Paulette Thorpe had sustained a gunshot wound. She was taken to hospital, where she later died.

Michael Peaks told CBS17 that Thorpe and several neighbors were celebrating the holiday when "something came out and hit her kind of in the chest. We thought it was a bug or something. She jumped and said, 'damn, something just bit me.'"

But a preliminary investigation indicated that Thorpe's death was a result of gunfire.

In a statement, Durham Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis said Thorpe was killed after some people "carelessly" fired guns into the air while celebrating the Fourth of July.

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"Last night as people throughout Durham peacefully celebrated the July 4th holiday with their friends and family, a small few chose to put our community at risk by carelessly firing guns into the air," Davis said in a statement.

"This reckless behavior led to the tragic death of Ms. Paulette Thorpe."

Davis added: "Ms. Thorpe's death reminds us that we as a community must work together to prevent these senseless acts, so that no family suffers such a tragedy ever again."

Linda Leake, a friend of Thorpe's, told CBS17 that Thorpe was a "very sweet person" and very friendly."

She added that she hoped the person who fired the gun will turn themselves in.

"It's senseless; you don't be shooting up in the air, because you know bullets don't have no names on them," Leake said.

Just hours before Thorpe's death, the Durham Police Department had warned people against celebrating the national holiday by firing guns into the air, noting in a post on Facebook that it is an offense punishable with a fine of up to $500 in the city.

"Celebratory gunfire is a crime. In Durham firing a gun into the air is a CLASS 3 misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500," the post said.

"Here's why: Bullets fired in the air can travel a long distance. And, what goes up, more often than not, must come down... and sometimes has fatal consequences for people and pets.

"Property damage is often another consequence of celebratory gunfire. Shattered windows and damaged roofs are often discovered after such incidents."

The post added: "Celebrate safely this weekend. Do not throw caution to the wind...literally!"

Anyone with information about the incident is urged to call investigators at 919-560-4440 ext. 29529 or CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200.

This article has been updated with information from the Durham Police Department.

July Fourth
A person looks up at the Empire State Building on July 4, 2020 in New York City. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Celebratory July 4th Gunfire Kills North Carolina Woman | U.S.