Tense days preceded high school shooting

Randallstown: A growing feud reportedly set off the violence, though none of the four injured students was said to be involved in the dispute.

May 15, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz and Sara Neufeld | Julie Bykowicz and Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The game pitted a team led by a local politician against a group of high school teachers.

A couple hundred Randallstown High School students watched from the bleachers, not with any expectation of seeing great feats of athleticism. They were there for a charity basketball game, and they were there to have a good time on a Friday afternoon.

They jokingly booed the politicos, and they cheered their teachers.

A deejay played music with a heavy beat.

The game was close at the half, but the politicians pulled away to win.

Afterward, Robert A. Zirkin, the state delegate who organized the game, was chatting with friends in the parking lot. He saw a black BMW with tinted windows -- and, police would later say, a handgun in the trunk -- pull up.

About that time, dozens of students streamed out of the gym into the warm afternoon air.

They headed toward the school parking lot.

Trouble apparently had been brewing for at least three days.

A student had called Matthew McCullough "a bitch." McCullough, a relatively new student at Randallstown, soon found himself being taunted by a group of students that included some of the school's football players, according to Thomas Evans, the school principal.

Over the next two days, some of the players continued making fun of McCullough, Evans said. Adding to the tension, police and school officials said, was a simmering dispute between McCullough and a football player over a girl.

Administrators at the school called a meeting with McCullough, his mother, the student who first called him a name and one of his parents, Evans said.

In his first year on the job, the principal has been trying to change the image of the 1,500-student school as a violent place with low levels of performance.

McCullough was told to take that Friday off to "cool down," Evans said.

But there he was, just about the time classes let out the afternoon of May 7, on Offutt Road, a long residential street with brick ranch-style homes that leads to the high school.

An administrator saw the boy -- a thin 17-year-old with dreadlocks -- and asked a police officer assigned to the school to go talk to him.

Officer Richard Barney patted down McCullough and reminded him to stay away from school property. McCullough assured the officer that everything would be OK.

As they talked, the father of the youth in the dispute over the girl arrived at the school. The father thought there might be a fight, and he wanted to talk.

Joined by football coach Albert Howard and the police officer, the father had a 15-minute conversation with McCullough, which the man described as respectful. "I told him that this black-on-black crime has got to go," said the father, who asked that he not be identified because of concerns for his son's safety.

The two shook hands when they parted.

About two hours later, police say, McCullough returned.

Brawl breaks out

After the May 7 charity game, McCullough and two others -- 2002 Randallstown graduate Ronald Johnson and 23-year-old Tyrone Brown, known as "Fat Boy" -- arrived at school in a gold Honda, police said. There, police said, they met up with Antonio Jackson, a 21-year-old who had driven up in a black BMW leased in his name.

McCullough had said he was "going to get" the person with whom he had the dispute over the girl, court documents state. But that boy wasn't at the school -- he was getting ready for a prom at another school.

It's not clear what happened next, but a brawl soon erupted on the steps of the school.

Freshman Latea Bell estimated that 20 people were fighting. "Everybody just jumped into it," she said. Students rushed back into the school to alert administrators.

McCullough and his three companions soon found themselves on the losing side.

The fighting made its way into the parking lot, where students turned their fists on the BMW, one witness said.

Amid the melee, someone -- witnesses said it was Tyrone Brown -- retrieved a semiautomatic handgun from the BMW, according to court documents. A witness yelled, "They have a gun," and told a friend to duck.

Witnesses saw Brown fire shots over the top of the car into the crowd, according to court documents. He then passed the gun to McCullough, police said.

Witnesses reported hearing two bursts of gunfire. The shots brought a sudden end to the fighting. Students began screaming and running. Some frantically dialed their cell phones.

Players on the Randallstown varsity baseball team, which had a home game on a field about 300 yards from the parking lot, dropped to the ground.

Marcus McLain was running up the steps to the school entrance when he felt what he described as a "bad burn" on his right ankle.

He collapsed inside the school's front door. Friend Carlos Bailey and others rushed to McLain, a junior and star quarterback of the Randallstown Rams. They told him everything was going to be all right.

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