Prosecutor wants to try student in school shooting as adult
By Cheryl Ross
© April 29, 2010
The city's top prosecutor said this morning that he wants the student charged with firing shots inside Woodrow Wilson High School on Wednesday to be tried as an adult.
During the 15-year-old student's arraignment in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court this morning, a probation officer provided information on prior offenses, including several counts of assault and battery.
The student, whose name is not being published because of his age, allegedly approached a locked door and brandished a gun to get a someone inside to open it, according to a summary read in court.
He is accused of going into a classroom and brandishing the gun, then leaving and firing into the wall of another occupied classroom.
He then fired twice in a crowded cafeteria, before putting the gun on a table and running away, according to the summary. No one was injured and at least one teacher followed him.
The student's criminal record also includes a probation violation, according to information from the hearing. He was, at one time, committed to the State Department of Juvenile Justice and was released on probation in April 2008.
A judge set a hearing for May 17. Family members of the student declined to comment after the arraignment.
At the high school this morning, students who arrived for classes said they were still shaken by Wednesday's events.
“I’m kind of scared because I didn’t want to come back today," said Deja Smith, 13. The ninth-grader, who arrived shortly after 7 a.m. with her sister, said she figured everything would be fine because the student charged with firing the shots inside a crowded cafeteria and hallway on Wednesday is in the custody of authorities. No one was injured.
"They should have security everywhere," said Smith's sister, 15-year-old De'Nisha Smith. “I’m scared, but I gotta go in there some time.”
Betty DiGennaro said she let her daughter, Brittany, stay home from school today despite a recorded message from school officials on Wednesday saying security would be increased today and counselors would be onsite. The freshman, who witnessed the shooting, was still shaken by what she saw.
School officials said the door that the student used to enter the building prior to the shooting was locked and that he couldn't have entered unless he had a swipe card or someone let him in.
"A kid let him in. That's what we believe," Superintendent David Stuckwisch said.
School leaders said they don't know whether metal detectors at the front entrance were turned on Wednesday. Surveillance cameras rolled throughout the school, where they are supposed to be monitored by someone inside the principal's office.
Yet school officials say the student, a 15-year-old arrested and charged by Portsmouth police in connection with the incident, got in.
It was unclear by 9 a.m. today how many students returned to classes and whether the metal detectors were used or what additional security measures were in place.
The shooting has school leaders wrestling with how it happened and what they could have done to stop it.
"If there is a way of preventing it, I don't know how," Stuckwisch said. "I don't think we can afford to place someone at every door."
"The analogy I would draw about putting somebody at every door is, it would be like putting an air marshal on every plane."
Senior Crystal Campbell and her friends were in the school cafeteria about 12:15 p.m.when they heard a gunshot. They looked up and saw the gunman.
"We're jumping, we're just trying to get under tables and stuff," Campbell said. "We were up against the wall and the table, crouched down.
"I thought that people were getting killed. I didn't know what was going on."
Campbell called the police: "There's been gunshots at Wilson High School and we need some help."
Aikeem Wilson saw the gunman walk in, hold the weapon up in the air and fire it into the ceiling.
"He shot off one shot then he walked past me, and as he walked past me, he reloaded the gun and then he let off another shot," the 18-year-old senior said.
Wilson said the gunman, whom he recognized, smiled as he carried what looked like a semiautomatic weapon.
"I sat there and I was looking at him the whole time," Wilson said. "He made eye contact, but he wasn't targeting me."
Students screamed and ran. Many pushed and shoved as they made their way out of the school's main door, he said.
After the second shot, Wilson fled out a side door.
Teachers opened a divider in the cafeteria so students could slide underneath it to get out, Campbell said.
An announcement over the intercom asked all students to go to their fourth block and stay there, but many sought comfort outside, Wilson said.
He sought refuge in the school's football stadium with other students. They called their parents and then waited to be taken home, he said.
Shortly after 12:15 p.m., police quickly closed down the main road in front of the school, Elmhurst Lane, and started diverting traffic.
Many parents who had received frantic text messages and phone calls from their children arrived.
Debbie Meginley was in the shower when she got a text message from her daughter, a freshman at the school.
"Mom someones shooting!!" it said.
Meginley quickly got dressed and drove a few blocks to Wilson. She picked up her daughter in the school's parking lot.
Also getting picked up was Brittany DiGennaro, who threw her arms around her mother and sobbed. The freshman said she was in the cafeteria at the time of the shooting. She said she phoned her grandmother and told her what happened.
Around 1:30 p.m., while Brittany's mother stood on a sidewalk blocks from the school, a voice mail came through her cell phone from Wilson High.
The message, a recording from the school's principal, Timothy E. Johnson, informed parents and guardians about the shooting. The recording also stated that school would start as regularly scheduled today, Stuckwisch said.
School leaders say the student charged in connection with the incident was suspended earlier this week for disorderly conduct or fighting.
A police officer and school staff member apprehended the student outside of the school near Cherokee Road on Wednesday afternoon, Portsmouth police Detective John Doyle said. The gun was recovered inside the school, Doyle said.
Police charged the student with discharging a firearm within or at an occupied school, brandishing a firearm on school property or within 1,000 feet of school property, and possession of a handgun while under the age of 18, according to a news release.
The student, whose name was not released by police because of his age, is being held at the Tidewater Detention Home. The Virginian-Pilot generally does not name juveniles unless they have been charged as adults.
Counselors will be available at Wilson today.
Meginley said it wouldn't hurt if metal detectors were turned on all throughout the school day.
Joseph Wiggins, the school's director of communications, said he doesn't know where else, besides the school's front entrance, metal detectors are present. He also said he doesn't know whether they were turned on Wednesday.
Metal detectors are in all the division's middle and high schools, he said. Stuckwisch said the division's principals determine when to turn them on. It's just not practical to run them every day, Stuckwisch said.
Nearly 1,200 students attend Wilson, so checking every student each day could eat up too much classroom instruction time, he said.
Pilot writer Cherise Newsome contributed to this report.