Two groups of students were apparently arguing before a 15-year-old opened fire on a classmate at an Atlanta middle school, and investigators believe the shooting was gang-related, police said Friday.
The suspect has been charged with aggravated assault and firearms counts, though it will be up to prosecutors to decide if he is charged as an adult, Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said during a news conference.
Police have not named the suspect or the 14-year-old who was shot because they are juveniles, and to protect both of them from retaliation.
While police believe the shooting is gang-related, they have not confirmed whether the boy who was shot and wounded is a gang member or if he was even the intended target.
The 14-year-old athlete is doing well despite being shot in the back of neck and is looking forward to watching Sunday’s Super Bowl, Mayor Kasim Reed said.
A relative of the boy representing the family told WSB-TV the boy had no gang ties. Efforts by The Associated Press to reach the family on Friday were unsuccessful.
It is not known how the suspect obtained the gun or got it onto campus, Turner said. An off-duty police officer was working as a school resource officer when the teen was shot and arrested the suspect.
Officials said the school does have metal detectors, though they are investigating whether the devices were working at the time of the shooting, which happened in a school courtyard.
“I think this incident is an important reminder that we have to constantly focus on the safety of our schools,” Reed said, adding that he and Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis are reviewing whether there are enough school resource officers.
The shooting came amid fierce debate about gun control and school safety in the U.S. Since 20 children and six adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December, calls for armed officers in every school have resonated across the country.
Reed said he’d also like to link the city’s schools with a network of roughly 700 video cameras around the city that can be monitored remotely. Linking the schools is doable and affordable, he said.
“I want the ability to have eyes on our schools in the event that there is an emergency,” he said.
Police swarmed Price Middle School just south of downtown Thursday afternoon minutes after reports of the shooting. A crowd of anxious parents gathered in the streets, awaiting word on their children, and later many questioned why they were kept in the locked-down school for more than two hours before being dismissed.
Many parents outside the school complained that school officials didn’t provide information quickly enough. Reed said the school system acted prudently to avoid relaying false information.
“I think the superintendent was more focused on being right than on being quick,” he said.
Hours after the Atlanta shooting, several school buses loaded with children pulled away from the school and stopped in front of a church about a half-block away. Parents tried boarding the buses. Police, who initially tried to stop them, finally relented and screamed at the drivers, “Let them off!”
James Bolton was at work when his sister called saying a teen had been shot at his son’s school and was in the crowd as parents began swarming the fleet of buses.
“Move, I see my son, I see mine!” he said, running up to embrace James Bolton Jr. “As long as I got this one back, I’m OK,” he said, holding his son’s head against his chest as parents nearby frantically searched for their children.
Bolton Jr. said he was in class when the intercom sounded and a school official announced the building was under immediate lockdown.
“They told us we had to be quiet,” Bolton told The Associated Press. “They said something went on in the courtyard.” Bolton said he was unaware that anyone had been shot until a reporter asked him about it.