Stray bullets teach unwanted lesson First-graders told to 'hit the floor'

November 13, 1991|By John Rivera and Roger Twigg

Bullets from a running gunbattle tore into two classrooms of an East Baltimore elementary school yesterday, sending more than 40 first-grade students under their desks for protection as teachers yelled for them to "hit the floor."

The gunbattle passed outside Johnston Square Elementary School in the 1100 block of Valley Street -- just a few blocks from the Baltimore Detention Center and the state penitentiary -- shortly after 1 p.m.

No one was injured as two of the shots struck a cabinet in one of the classrooms and another hit a ceiling light well above the youngsters' heads, Karen V. Poe, a school spokeswoman, said.

Last night, Shannon Simmons, 6, who was in one of the classrooms, gave a simple account.

"We were in the classroom and they started shooting," she said. "We all ducked under our desks. And the teacher ran and told the principal, and the principal called the police."

Her father, Eddie Simmons, who went to the school last night to speak with the principal, was distressed that his daughter could talk about the incident so matter-of-factly.

"She's not upset, I'm the one who's shaking. I'm upset. She's taking it like a game," Mr. Simmons said. And the fact that his daughterknew how to respond when the bullets flew into her classroom was no consolation.

"These kids, they've seen so much of this that they know exactly what to do," he said.

The gun battle comes a month after a similar incident at a West Baltimore elementary school. On Oct. 15, five gunmen shooting at each other ran through the playground at Steuart Hill Elementary School, across the street from Union Square, as 20 children and four teachers were rehearsing a skit. No one was injured in that incident.

Yesterday's gunfire, which residents said is common in the drug-plagued neighborhood, has parents upset that their children are not safeat school.

"That bullet doesn't have a name," said Marion Rockwell, 21, who has two children at the school. "They should have more protection for kids in school."

There have been other troubling incidents in recent weeks.

A window at the front entrance is riddled with indentations, which parents said were caused by fragments of a shotgun blast last week. And several weeks ago, police chased a suspected drug dealer through school property.

Witnesses told police that yesterday's shooting started after two men argued at Biddle and Wilcox streets. One of the men pulled a handgun and started shooting as he ran toward the school. The second man, lying on the sidewalk, returned the fire.

Three of the shots struck school windows. Dennis S. Hill, a police spokesman, said two bullet casings were found on the ground outside the window of one of the classrooms, and at least one projectile was recovered from inside the school.

Police have no descriptions of the gunmen.

After the shooting, the first-grade students were transferred to other rooms, where principal Harold Borden spoke with them. Students resumed classes within a half-hour.

Mr. Borden plans to talk to the students again today to see whether any develop "emotional responses" overnight that might require bringing in a crisis intervention team, Miss Poe said.

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