Teenager, 17, shot near high school

West Baltimore senior grazed by bullet

officials say safety improved

October 04, 2005|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

A 17-year-old senior who cut class to visit a convenience store was shot yesterday as he walked back to the campus of his West Baltimore high school, a violent break to what city school officials say has been a calm beginning of the academic year.

The boy, who was treated at an area hospital and released, suffered a grazing wound to the head after three men approached him about lunchtime just behind the Westside Skill Center, the vocational and technical course building that is part of the Edmondson High School campus. Police were searching for the assailants last night.

"Truly it is a tragic occurrence," said Bonnie S. Copeland, the city school system's chief executive officer said.

Since last year's spate of shootings and arsons in Baltimore's public schools, Copeland said safety has improved significantly. Compared with last year at this time, the number of incidents where students were caught with weapons in school has decreased by 50 percent, she said. Last year, there were 19 suspicious fires, compared with only one so far this fall, she said.

"We are making good progress inside schools," Copeland said. She said the school is sending letters home with students about what happened, and crisis counselors were immediately dispatched to the school.

The shooting occurred about 11:30 a.m., shortly before a change of periods, according to students. The period change often means that dozens of students can be seen walking between the main high school building and the Westside Skill Center as they head to their next classes. The trip involves going through the Westside Skill Center's rear parking lot and crossing a street.

Tyquan Ali, 15, said he had just walked out of the Westside Skill Center when he saw the injured student sitting on a police car. Tyquan said the student's neck was covered in blood, but that the student did not seem shaken and was talking on his cell phone.

"He was calm," Tyquan said. "He didn't look very upset."

Soon after the shooting, school administrators ordered a temporary lockdown, keeping students inside whatever room or part of the school they happened to be in, whether a classroom, the cafeteria or the gymnasium. Outside, a rush of police activity engulfed the area around the school.

School officials resumed the students' schedules at about 1:40 p.m. - nearly two hours after the shooting - and did not dismiss students early.

Some concerned parents, who watched news reports or received cell phone calls from their children, rushed to the school to pick them up before the day ended at 3:05 p.m.

Students said that even though official word from school officials was slow during the two-hour wait, they were getting updates from family members who called on cell phones. Some said that teachers turned on television sets inside classrooms to watch the news reports.

"I was just wondering if it was one of my friends," said Jelisa Foster, a 15-year-old freshman.

Police said they did not know of a motive for the attack. Police dog teams and helicopters from Baltimore City and Baltimore County searched the surrounding area. Officers collected at least one bag of unspecified evidence in some nearby woods.

An assistant manager of a nearby 7-Eleven store, several hundred yards away from the school, said police took a surveillance tape from the store. The employee said he didn't remember seeing a boy in the store just before the shooting, but he said there were young girls outside the store about that time.

Police said they do not believe the assailants were students at the school. Edmondson has approximately 1,100 students from all over the city, officials said.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm said the schools system police and city officers responded to the scene.

"We've had much better cooperation between Baltimore police and school police this year," O'Malley said.

The shooting "reminds us of the urgency of our work," he added.

Hamm said police had "a lot of leads, a lot of good information" in the case, but had not yet recovered the gun used in the attack.

By 4 p.m. yesterday, about an hour after the last bell, the campus at Westside Skill Center was almost vacant, except for Anthony Davis.

"Anything can happen when you're walking alone around here," the 11th-grader said as he walked across the pavement in the back of the school toward track practice.

The shooting along this same spot earlier in the day only made him more jumpy. "We didn't know what was going on today," said Anthony, who was kept in his classroom from about 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Then, he said, "the principal came on and told us what happened."

At the other end of the large connecting parking lot, Butch Little and Kevin Queens stood under a tent sorting through bushels of live crabs.

The pair have run their Crabs on Wheels business on this site for the past six years and missed the shooting yesterday. But Little, 46, complained about students and others who routinely hang out behind the school near the edges of a broken brick wall that borders the Uplands Apartments complex.

"There are lots of people still hanging out there - drug addicts, hookers. And they can just cut through the wall to get to the school," Little said.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Matthew Dolan and Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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