Students return to Atlanta school after shooting

Students began returning to Price Middle School Friday morning, a day after a 14-year-old boy was shot by a fellow student.

The male shooting victim, whose name will not be released because he is a juvenile, was treated at Grady Memorial Hospital and released Thursday evening.

Another Price student was taken into custody, but had not been charged late Thursday. The student’s name and age were not released, but police said the shooting apparently resulted from a disagreement between the two boys. Police did not know the nature of the dispute or a motive for the shooting. A small caliber handgun was found at the scene.

A teacher who was near the shooting was injured “while running” to get away, Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said. The teacher was not injured by gunfire.

Police have scheduled a 4 p.m. press conference Friday.

Kelvin Fitzgerald, who was dropping his daughter off at school Friday morning, said he was surprised by the lack of a police presence just one day after the shooting.

“I thought there would be somebody here; I don’t see nothing. I just saw one down the street.”

He called the shooting “sad, confusing … I still don’t have all the details.”

Parent Cornelia Stone praised the school for its handling of the shooting.

“I think the school handled it really well,” she said, “especially keeping our kids safe and keeping them on lockdown.”

She said not being able to contact her children during the lockdown was “torture, but it really did help in the long run.”

Friday morning, Fred Smith of Conyers stood outside the school beside a 10-foot cross. Smith said the message he was trying to convey was “that God’s still on the throne … that there’s still hope.”

Smith said the area where the shooting occurred was one where “there’s a lot of single moms, fatherless kids … I believe that men need to start rising up again and taking care of their families.”

The shooting occurred just before 2 p.m. outside of the school, Campos said.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis said it was not clear whether the shooter had to go through the school’s metal detector since the shooting took place outside the building.

The victim’s aunt, Keonia Clark, said her nephew was “doing OK.”

“His mother is being strong for him,” Clark said. “This is a terrible thing for something like this to happen.”

Clark described her nephew as a humble child who loves music and girls and plays on the football team.

“He’s just like any other 14-year old,” she said.

Parents gathered outside the school once news of the shooting spread. They fretted and fumed about the safety of their children and the lack of information, but Davis defended the district’s response.

Thursday’s shooting brought to mind the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which sparked a national discussion about school safety and gun control.

But while the details are vastly different — one injured student at Price; 26 dead at Sandy Hook — questions and frustrated bewilderment link the two.

How could this happen? What can be done to keep it from happening again? The questions raised Thursday were nagging, angry and urgent.

“Maybe we can wake up,” Clark said. “This will show what’s happening to our kids.”

However, despite the perception that juvenile crime is spiraling out of control, federal statistics show the opposite is true. Violent crime rates for juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 fell to a 30-year low in 2010 and were 55 percent below the peak level of 1994, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

With the Price students under lockdown amid an absence of information, Thursday afternoon was a nightmare for parents as news of the shooting spread.

Parent Michelle Watts said she was called about 2:15 p.m. by her sixth-grader son’s teacher, alerting her that her son was OK but there had been a shooting.

“He is very scared,” Watts said. “He said on the phone, ‘Please come get me. Please come get me.’”

But Watts couldn’t. Students were not released at their usual 3:45 p.m. dismissal time, and parental fear morphed into rage as they crowded around the school.

Lashanda Williams, whose son is a seventh-grader at Price, said: “We want to know who the injured child is. We are all wondering, ‘What if it is our child?’”

Reports coming out of the school weren’t always accurate. Shamaka McGhee said her daughter, a sixth-grader, called her and said, “There’s a standoff. There’s an intruder in the school, a boy going around shooting people.”

April Hood, the mother of an eighth-grader, said parents received a text message from Atlanta Public Schools at 3 p.m. telling them a student had been shot and a teacher had been hurt.

“I’m worried about my baby,” Hood said. “I think they need to have more security at the school. This is ridiculous.”

Initial police reports were that the shooting was at Carver High School. Carver and Slater Elementary were also on lockdown.

The parent of an eighth-grader at Price said her son heard the gunfire. Children immediately began screaming and running.

An armed police resource officer apprehended the shooter “within minutes” of him firing a gun several times, police said.

At 3:45 p.m., a school official emerged and told anxiously waiting parents that, “All children are safe.”

School officials praised the response of the resource officer, an off-duty Atlanta police officer, but offered few additional details of the incident, which happened on the school campus between the main building and the gym around 1:50 p.m.

At a 5:15 p.m. news conference, Davis said the school followed security protocol in putting a “hard lockdown” into effect while an Atlanta Police Department SWAT team searched the building room by room to be sure it was secure.

“Plans are really good until things happens, and then things go wrong and then you learn,” Davis said. “We will have a lessons-learned meeting (today). The things that happened were the things that were supposed to happen. We just don’t know how efficiently.”

Using robocalls, the district sent out a notice to parents about the shooting around 3:05 p.m.

Davis said his impression was the district responded as fast as it could.

“We did not want to alert parents that the building was safe and secure until we could determine it was safe and secure, and that takes time,” he said.

The superintendent said he understood the anger, fear and apprehension of parents as they awaited news.

“We certainly understand those concerns,” Davis said.

After it was all over, James Bolton Sr. hugged his 10-year old son in the parking lot of a nearby church at about 5 p.m.

“Once they said (the victim) was 14, then I breathed a sigh of relief,” he said. “As long as I got this one back, I am OK.”

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Staff writers Daarel Burnette and Jeffry Scott and staff photographer John Spink contributed to this article.Fred Smith of Conyers holds a cross outside Price Middle School Friday morning. (Photo: John Spink, jspink@ajc.com)

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