Hours before the start of a new school year, four students were injured in a shooting at a block party Tuesday night outside the Atlanta University Center library.
Two Spelman College students and two Clark Atlanta University students, all of whom are women, were taken to a hospital with injuries ranging from graze wounds to gunshot wounds, according to Atlanta police. They were hit around 10:30 p.m., when someone opened fire into a crowd of about 200 people in front of the Robert W. Woodruff Library on James P. Brawley Drive.
Police later identified the four as Erin Ennis, 18, of Powder Springs; Maia Williams-McLaren, 18, of Boston; Elyse Spencer, 18, of Rochester, N.Y.; and Kia Thomas, 19. Thomas’ hometown was not provided.
“Initial investigation seems to indicate an argument broke out between two parties prior to the shooting,” Atlanta police public affairs director Carlos Campos said Wednesday morning in a statement. “It appears the women were not the intended targets of the shooting.”
Three victims were taken by ambulance from the scene, and the fourth showed up at Grady Memorial Hospital with a gunshot wound.
No arrests have been made. However, police released surveillance video of the man they believe shot the four students. Campos said the video shows the suspect wearing a white T-shirt, gray sweat pants, a tan Gucci hat and gray New Balance sneakers.
It is unknown if the shooter was a student at the AUC, which includes Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms offered her thoughts and prayers to parents across the country “who have entrusted the well-being of their children to our city.”
“While the full force and resources of the Atlanta Police Department are in operation to assist in bringing those responsible to justice, we as a community will continue to work with the Atlanta University Center, and all of our colleges and universities, to take meaningful action to keep our campuses safe,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Gov. Brian Kemp also tweeted his prayers for the victims, adding to “please notify law enforcement authorities if you have information regarding these suspects.”
Friends posted on social media that Spencer, who is a Spelman freshman, was shot in the chest, and another woman was shot in the leg.
All four victims were stable late Tuesday night.
Darryl B. Holloman, the vice president of student affairs at Spelman, said in a statement he and a resident director went to the hospital to visit their students about an hour after the shooting, and both had been moved from the emergency department to a regular floor for observation.
Spencer took to Twitter to let friends and family know she was OK and to thank them for their prayers.
“I’m here, I’ve alive,” she said. “God got me. Y’all got me.”
Spencer left home for Spelman just last week. A frequent volunteer with a penchant for photography, she was one of Rochester’s “bright stars,” Mayor Lovely Ann Warren said on Facebook.
Warren said Spencer’s family is on their way to Atlanta to be by her side during her recovery. The mayor is asking for continued financial support for the family, who will need help with food and other expenses during their stay.
Ennis posted on Instagram that she’s OK but will have a bullet in her leg for the “rest of (her) life.”
“I’m here, I’m alive. God had me. Never in my life would I have ever thought that something like this would happen to me ... A bullet will reside in my leg for the rest of my life but at least I have a life period,” the post continued. “Thank you all again for keeping me in your thoughts.”
The party, hosted by a third-party event company, was supposed to be a celebration of the end of new student orientation and the start of classes Wednesday. It was an unsanctioned event, according to Clark Atlanta interim president Lucille H. Maugé. It is unclear how the university addressed the gathering prior to the gunfire.
Once the shots rang out, a large contingency of campus and Atlanta police officers responded.
“We heard multiple shots being fired and everybody started running,” a Morehouse College junior who did not want to be identified told Channel 2 Action News. “There was just a whole bunch of confusion in the area.”
Clark Atlanta junior Brooklyn Scott said the incident shows the need for more campus police officers, increased patrols and added security measures that stem the flow of visitors not affiliated with the university. Clark Atlanta does not have a gated entrance to the streets surrounding the campus.
“Parents should send their kids away and think they’re OK,” said Scott, 20, a criminal justice major from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “It’s kind of scary to think about it. If it can be on a campus, it can be anywhere.”
Sophomore Jasmine Phelps said the shooting was doubtlessly a consequence of Clark Atlanta's open campus.
"Anyone can get on this campus," said Phelps, who is from Seattle. She said she worries about her safety "every day."
Clark Atlanta police Chief Debra Williams asked students to stay clear of the library overnight while an investigation was underway. Officers canvassed the campus Wednesday morning talking to worried students.
Micah Lee, a junior marketing major at Clark Atlanta, said he heard about the party and planned to go with his girlfriend but changed his mind.
Lee said the group organizing the party typically has events at houses off campus for AUC students. Before Tuesday, there had never been a problem.
“It’s probably somebody from the street who came on campus,” Lee said of the shooter.
An emergency student town hall meeting with Maugé and school deans was held Wednesday afternoon in the Clark Atlanta student center.
In a statement, SGA leaders said “more importantly than sorrow, we feel an extreme sense of urgency to do whatever possible to ensure the safety and security of all students at Spelman College and throughout the AUC.”
Holloman, the Spelman vice president, told faculty not to expect full attendance for the first day of class as students grappled with the shooting and its effects. Counselors were on campus since Tuesday night to provide support for students in the residence halls.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Crime Stoppers Atlanta. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, by calling 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.