Mom recalls panic at Weltner Park during last weekend’s gun incident

Natalie Chavez was swinging her two-year-old son Atticus when they were forced to flee after a man pulled a handgun at Weltner Park.
Natalie Chavez was swinging her two-year-old son Atticus when they were forced to flee after a man pulled a handgun at Weltner Park.

Natalie Chavez didn’t see the gun, but she’ll never forget the fear it inspired at what had been a happy, tranquil Sunday outing to Weltner Park.

She, her husband, 12-year-old daughter and two-year-old son had just gotten ice cream at the nearby Baskin-Robbins. Their toddler was on a swing set. Nearby, a family was celebrating a first birthday party.

Some guys were playing basketball, nothing unusual for a sunny, early evening at the park at 78th Street and State Line Road in Prairie Village.

Chavez was facing away from the court, pushing her son Atticus on the swing.

The first thing she noticed out of the ordinary was when a woman about 20 feet away started acting strangely, becoming agitated and trying to gather her children.

Then Chavez saw the urgency in her husband’s face.

“My husband and daughter were looking beyond me and then my husband mouthed to me, ‘there’s a man with a gun.'” Chavez recalled. “I yanked my son out of the swing and grabbed my daughter’s hand and ran across the street.

“Other families were running, little kids no bigger than five, were running. They were scared. I hid behind a tree. I figured if a bullet was fired, the tree would stop it.”

The Chavez family then ran to a nearby house and banged on the door. The homeowner allowed them inside, where they called the police.

By then, what ultimately wound up being 10 police officers from Prairie Village and Leawood had responded to the reports of a man with a gun at about 6:30 p.m.

Two guys at the basketball game had gotten into an altercation and pulled handguns on each other.

One had fled by the time police arrived. The other refused to drop his weapon. A crowd of about 30 people gathered around, some shouting insults at the cops. Finally, after a tense 20 minute standoff, the man surrendered his weapon.

In the end, no charges were filed, Prairie Village police said, because the man was legally entitled to have a weapon under a new Kansas law that allows people to carry concealed weapons. And there was no victim to file a complaint.

But for Chavez, it was “hands down, the scariest moment of my life.”

Chavez is an elementary school teacher and lives in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City. She doesn’t own a gun, would never want a gun, but she understands why some people do.

Still, the idea of someone bringing a firearm to a family park shocked her.

“You don’t bring a gun to a park,” she said. If you’re angry enough to pull out a gun, it means you can’t solve a problem with words or a fist fight.

“Guns kill people. Your intent is to kill that person. What’s going on in your mind?

“I just knew I had to get my children out of there as quickly as we could.”