School safety concerns grow after fatal shooting of Gwinnett student

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Superintendent calls for collaboration to address issues

Correction: Democrat Ruwa Romman is running against Republican John Chan for Georgia House of Representatives District 97. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Romman’s opponent.

Norcross High School students went to classes Thursday with additional police on campus and counselors ready to provide support a day after the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old student less than a mile from the school.

Police said they were called about noon Wednesday to Technology Parkway and found DeAndre Henderson, 17, with a gunshot wound. He died later at a nearby hospital.

A family friend set up an online fundraiser on GoFundMe for funeral expenses.

“I’m deeply crushed,” Henderson’s mother, Kimberly Parks, told Channel 2 Action News. “I’m angry that his life had to be ended so short and so soon. But I cherish all 17 years I had with him. He was my baby.”

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Parks told the television station that someone lured him to fight someone when he was fatally wounded. Police have not released any suspect information.

Before the school year, Gwinnett County School District Police Chief Tony Lockard acknowledged that safety outside of buildings is a concern because resource officers can’t control every entrance or outdoor walkway to portable classrooms, let alone areas surrounding the school.

Gwinnett County’s school system has seen at least two other instances involving weapons or concern of weapons disrupting school within the last week. After classes let out on Oct. 21, a student was arrested on accusations he fired a gun near Shiloh High School. Brookwood High School was locked down Wednesday due to a false report posted on social media that someone was inside the school with a gun.

Hours after the shooting that took Henderson’s life, Gwinnett County Superintendent Calvin Watts called for the community to come together to find solutions to violence.

“The gun violence in our community and around the country is unacceptable. It needs to stop,” Watts said. “This violence is entering our schools from the larger community, and we need to respond together.”

Tarece Johnson, chair of Gwinnett’s school board, expressed condolences to Henderson’s family, friends and peers. “Violence impacts our daily lives, and we all have a responsibility to create safe communities,” Johnson said.

Gisela Sabala went to the school Wednesday unaware that a student had been shot nearby. She’s always one of the first parents in the pick-up line and was waiting in front of the school when she found out.

”When I got the email that one of the students had been in a shooting, I got frightened,” Sabala said in Spanish to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter while waiting in the pick-up line Thursday.

Sabala said her daughter texted her that they were not being allowed to change classes, but she didn’t know it was because of the shooting. Her daughter thought it was because of a gun threat at Brookwood High School earlier in the day.

“I got scared because I have a daughter here,” Maria Rayas said, speaking Spanish to a reporter in the pick-up line Thursday. Both Rayas and Sabala felt the school did well keeping parents informed.

However, concerns over student behavior and school safety have been growing in Gwinnett. At a recent school board meeting, Watts and board members faced parents, students and teachers who raised alarm about unsafe behaviors in schools and recently amended discipline policies.

“As a district, we are taking the necessary measures to ensure our schools are safe. Any students involved in violence or threats of violence at our schools will face consequences,” Watts said in his video statement. “Students involved in the shooting will be held accountable, which will include tribunals and criminal charges pending the investigation.”

ExploreGwinnett schools adding visitor screening system, new tip line

Republican State Rep. Bonnie Rich of Suwanee blamed the school board and changes to discipline policies after the incident at Shiloh. The district adjusted its discipline approach to reduce suspensions and demographic inequities. Critics argue student behavior has worsened as a result.

Following the shooting near Norcross, Ruwa Romman, a Democrat running for a state House seat in Gwinnett, blamed “loose gun laws passed into law by Republicans.” She said criminals have easy access to guns that have ended up in the hands of children and in schools.

Along with stricter gun laws, Johnson said comprehensive mental health care, community engagement and social and emotional learning are critical to eliminating violence.

Gwinnett implemented safety measures this school year, including new vestibules at some buildings and a universal screening system for visitors. The district also budgeted for expanding the police force of about 100 officers by up to 20.