Another burst of school-area violence — this time leaving five people shot near a southwest Atlanta high school — underscores the difficulty of keeping children safe whether they’re in class or out.
One of the victims remained in critical condition Wednesday. Four of those shot Tuesday afternoon outside Therrell High were students.
The 17-year-old student accused of shooting them, Marcellus Brooks, will be held without bond on five counts of aggravated assault, a judge ordered Wednesday. Brooks had been jailed 15 days last month on a felony robbery charge before being released on $8,000 bond, according to court records.
While the school system beefed up security around Therrell High, more than 100 of its 800 students stayed home Wednesday, said Associate Superintendent Steve Smith. Additional security, including a ban on book bags and backpacks, should help restore parents’ confidence that the last six days of the school year will be safe, he said.
“It’s just a way for us to reassure our families that, as normal as possible, school will go on. Instruction is very critical,” Smith said.
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Keshia Hurston, the mother of one of the injured students, said parents need to teach children to avoid situations that can lead to violence.
“All you can do is talk to your children, and at the end of the day, you hope and pray they listen to you, because this is an eye-opener for everyone,” Hurston told Channel 2 Action News.
Hurston’s son, 18-year-old Trevion Morgan, said he was shot after he heard a rumor there was a fight nearby after school Tuesday. A bullet struck him in the chest and arm, and he was treated and released from the hospital. Police said they haven’t established a motive in the shooting.
Gun violence has struck metro Atlanta schools at least six times since Jan. 31, 2013, when a 14-year-old boy was shot in the neck outside Price Middle School.
Most of the incidents, like the ones at Price and Therrell, have not taken place on school grounds or in the school, limiting the effectiveness of policies and procedures like using metal detectors to combat violence.
The Rev. Frank Brown, president of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, blamed a “culture of violence” for repeated shootings among students.
“Too many of them learn to kill before they grasp the concept of reading and math, so when they find themselves in personal conflicts, they’re inspired by what they have learned by watching video games,” Brown said. “We must help them manage the anger that has built up inside of them and find the root causes of that anger.”
Others said the education system emphasizes testing and standards so much that values and character get overlooked.
“We’ve got to create a more caring kind of environment in our school system and communities,” said David Payne, president of Southwest and Northwest Atlanta Parents and Partners for Schools. “Values used to be a priority in our education system. At this point, with the focus on high-stakes testing, we’ve moved away from that.”
School police officers and metal detectors can only do so much, said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center.
“Schools need to have a working relationship with law enforcement,” he said. “Beyond that, it’s difficult to prevent this from happening on or near campus.”
Garry McGiboney, associate superintendent of policy and charter schools at the Georgia Department of Education, said security plans should be tailored to individual schools.
“For example, if a school is close to an open, unsupervised area, the school’s plan should include a protocol where staff members secure the area by walking the perimeter before students enter the area.”
Laura Cutilletta, senior attorney for the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it’s too easy for children to get weapons.
“Laws that require safe storage of firearms in the home and penalize parents who allow children to access firearms would help reduce school shootings,” Cutilletta said. “Approximately one of three handguns is kept loaded and unlocked, and most children know where their parents keep their guns.”
Besides Morgan, the victims of Tuesday’s shooting were Lamarcritus Wilson, 20; Domonic Clark, 17; Tekevious Redding, 17; and Morgan Evans, 15, according to Channel 2 Action News. The identity of the one in critical condition Wednesday was not released.