Randallstown High strives for normality

Students, parents express concerns on first day back after Friday's shootings

Randallstown School Shooting

May 11, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Randallstown High School Principal Thomas Evans began the day yesterday with a somber 7 a.m. faculty meeting.

A half-hour later, he stood in the lobby welcoming students back to school, putting his arm around a girl who needed a hug. He appeared on closed-circuit television, leading the campus in a moment of reflection before a senior sang the alma mater.

On the first day back at Randallstown High since a shooting Friday in the school parking lot wounded four students, one critically, Evans tried to make the atmosphere as normal as possible.

But for many of the 40 parents ushered into the cafeteria for an impromptu meeting, normal wasn't good enough. They were afraid for their children's lives, and they wanted assurances Evans couldn't provide.

Marie Burroughs sobbed as she recalled her grandson being punched in the parking lot moments before the shootings.

"I'm not calm right now," she said. "There's a child fighting for his life."

The Rev. Basha P. Jordan Jr. demanded to know what the school is doing to make his son and others feel safe. "Students are scared to death," he said.

Dona Varner, for one, said she was comfortable having her daughter, sophomore Erika Varner, back at school. She said Erika was standing immediately behind shooting victim Marcus McLain when a bullet pierced his ankle Friday. Yesterday, she took the day off from work to show her support for her daughter and the school.

"You have to keep going," said Varner, a control-room supervisor for the Maryland Transit Administration. "You could stay home and someone could shoot through the window."

Evans, who is in his first year leading the 1,500-student school, told the parents that counselors are available and that teachers know to give students as much time as they need to discuss their fears.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who represents the area, attended the parent assembly and received a fervent round of applause after suggesting that the school beef up security for at least the rest of the school year.

A dozen police officers were on hand for the school's opening yesterday, but Evans wanted many of them out patrolling in the neighborhood.

"I specifically asked that we not have the school loaded with police officers today," he told the faculty. "That is not a normal school day."

Sixteen students took the Advanced Placement biology exam as scheduled. Plans for Thursday's senior prom are moving forward.

For many students, though, life isn't the same.

Glenn Townes, 17 and a junior, put a black marker to an oversized white T-shirt and wrote a message to his fellow wide receiver on the football team, William Thomas, who remained hospitalized in critical condition yesterday.

"Tippa," he wrote, "#84, Our Thoughts/Prayers are with YOU!!! We Love You."

Townes said he plans to deliver it to Thomas at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He worries that his friend will be paralyzed.

Eighty-two percent of Randallstown students were at school yesterday, compared with the regular attendance rate of 94 percent, said school system spokesman Charles A. Herndon. Counselors attended every class of the four victims, while about 25 students and 15 parents saw counselors individually.

Alex Brown, a senior who was shot through the shoulder, went back to school briefly yesterday, according to his father. He was released from the hospital late Friday night.

Students distributed yellow ribbons to pin on their shirts. They jammed together in the halls between class periods to sign poster-size get-well cards.

At the end of the school day, 16-year-old junior Brittany Junior skipped the music class where she normally sees Andre Mellerson, another of the victims. Instead, she went to reflect under a maple tree just steps from where the shooting occurred.

Going back there was hard, she said. "It just doesn't feel safe."

Sun staff writer Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.

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