APS revises security after football-game shots; other districts don’t

One week after a barrage of bullets injured two people outside a high school football game, some fans filing into the same Atlanta stadium Friday night said that despite promises of heightened security they felt worried and afraid.

“Is it safe going in there?” Chrishonna Howard asked as she purchased a ticket to watch her son, Jalen, play Friday. Howard said coming to the Grady High School stadium so soon after gunshots marred last week’s game left her scared. She planned her trip carefully, parking as close as possible to the entrance.

The shooting - near one of Atlanta’s most sought-after high schools - tarnished a time-honored Friday night fall ritual. It also highlighted the problems with policing large outdoor events brimming with parents, students and fans.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen pledged tighter security. The visible changes in place Friday night for the face off of B.E.S.T Academy vs. Therrell High School amounted to a handful additional uniformed police officers. Fans were screened with metal-detecting wands, but officials said that is typical at Atlanta’s two high school stadiums _ Grady and Lakewood. Officials said security can be adjusted as needed with additional ticket takers called in for popular games that draw large crowds.

Despite the widespread publicity following the Grady shooting, other districts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they planned no additional security measures.

Kesha Moore - whose 15-year-old daughter plays snare drum for the B.E.S.T. Academy band - took matters into her own hands. Before they came to the stadium Friday night for the game, the 38-year-old College Park mother gave her daughter a lesson: if a shooting starts “don’t run, lay flat and don’t panic.”

Some fans interviewed by the AJC Friday night said that, despite the increased security, they still worried about their safety. They wanted more police on hand. And some who were rattled by the shooting said they were confident in the additional security measures.

Still others said they felt the shooting was an unusual event that didn’t change their view that high school sporting events are safe.

A week ago, as the Grady and Carver high school football squads battled through the third quarter, spectators heard shots ring out. Screams erupted from the stands as fans scrambled for the exits. It was only later they realized the gunfire had taken place outside the stadium.

Nearly two dozen shots were fired after a confrontation between two groups of young men, several of whom had been attending the game, police say. One victim, an 18-year-old student from Crim Open Campus High School who was in one of the groups, was shot in the back and is recovering from his injuries at Grady Memorial Hospital.

A 52-year-old woman driving through the intersection of Monroe Drive and 8th Street was hit by stray bullets including one that hit her in the ankle and one that grazed her head. She was taken to Atlanta Medical Center in stable condition. No update on her condition was available. Police say they have made no arrests in the case.

It wasn’t the first time gunshots were fired at a metro Atlanta high school game. Last October, a 17-year-old was killed in the parking lot of Langston Hughes High School after a game. In a separate incident the same month a 17-year-old with a gun was shot by a police officer at Fulton County’s Lakewood Stadium. That teen was accused of a shooting after a game between Mays and Carver High Schools.

The violence presents a test of leadership for Carstarphen, who took the helm of the much-troubled Atlanta district about a year ago.

“I know there’s a lot of work to do but it is essential that every community and every cluster has the confidence that when they come to an event for Atlanta Public Schools … that they can enjoy themselves without being in fear,” she said.

But she also made clear that guaranteeing security for such events is easier said than done.

“There are some very basic resource pieces around security measures that you would think would be easy, but are difficult when you’re inside of a school community,” she said.

Officials in other metro districts have various procedures to monitor and protect high school football crowds and said they planned no notable changes

DeKalb County Schools spokesman Quinn Hudson said Thursday they would continue to use metal detectors at games. Security would be provided by school police officers and officers from nearby municipalities.

Susan Hale, spokeswoman for Fulton County Schools, said normal protocols for sporting events include local police and school police officers to control crowds and monitor situations.

“I can’t say we’re doing anything different” as a result of the recent Grady shooting, Hale said.

Neither are changes being made in Cobb, Gwinnett or Clayton counties, officials said.

Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett County Public Schools - the state’s largest district - said they do not frisk attendees or have metal detectors. They typically have six to 10 officers on site.

Some of those attending Friday night’s game in Atlanta took a pragmatic view of the whole issue.

Lucky Johnson, a personal trainer from Alpharetta, called last week’s shooting “alarming.”

But as the 30-year-old prepared to enter Grady Stadium for this week’s matchup he said he felt safe.

“I got myself right with God anyway,” he said. “I hope to see some good football.”