Updated at 8:04 p.m.
Five months after local youth painted a peace mural at an intersection outside Rosemary Anderson High School, bullets flew Friday at the Northeast Portland corner, sending four victims running into the school for help and scattering casings on the sidewalk and painted street.
Students had just been let out for lunch at 12:10 p.m. and many were standing on the corner when police say a gunman fired multiple shots and then fled, running north on North Borthwick and east on North Killingsworth Street with two other men.
Student Oliviann Danley, 16, and said she heard three shots and saw several students run into the school. One boy ran in, holding his coat open, grabbing his side and yelling: ‘Oh my God, did I just get shot? Did I just get shot?”
Isabel Crosier, 16, said she heard three “bangs,” then staff rushed everybody into the school. To her left, she saw a wounded student on a chair. To her right, she said, a boy was bleeding, “just laying on the ground.”
Four students were wounded. Three were rushed by ambulance to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. Taylor Michelle Zimmers, a 16-year-old girl, was shot in the chest; she underwent surgery Friday and was in critical condition. Labraye Quavon Franklin, 17, and David Joshua Jackson-Liday, 20, were upgraded from serious to fair condition Friday night. A 17-year-old, Olyvia Lynn Batson, was grazed in the foot by a bullet and treated at the scene, police said
The shooting sent the neighboring Jefferson High School and Portland Community College Cascade campus into lockdown. The college repeatedly blared a recording over loudspeakers that could be heard from blocks away: “All campus buildings are currently in lockdown … find the nearest available cover.”
A preliminary investigation indicated a dispute at the corner of Borthwick and Killingsworth Court precipitated the shooting. Police believe there was one shooter, described as in his late teens or early 20s, with gang ties. But police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson stressed that the agency still didn’t know whether the shooting was over anything gang-related. He also said he did not know if any of the victims were the gunman’s intended targets.
School officials, police, city and community leaders decried the violence, but described it as an isolated incident. Over the past several years, police had worked closely with local clergy and school leaders to clean up what had had once been a heavily, gang-affected neighborhood. Before Friday’s violence, police said that there had been no shootings with injuries in the immediate area in nearly three years.
“Fortunately, this was an exception,” Mayor Charlie Hales said. “It was a bad exception.”
Simpson said, “For all of us out here, it’s very jarring for this to happen…It’s been a long time since we’ve had a shooting in this area. It brings up a lot of old wounds, certainly.” (click here to watch video of Sgt. Simpson)
Yet the mayor said his spirits were somewhat bolstered when he heard that witnesses provided good descriptions and helped police identify the suspect or suspects within minutes of the shooting. By Friday night, there was no report of any arrests. Police said their main concern Friday was tending to the victims and ensuring the school was safe.
Joe McFerrin II, the president and chief executive officer of Portland Opportunities Industrial Center, which runs the alternative high school, had left the school earlier for a 12:30 p.m. meeting with juvenile justice officials when he got a call from the school’s front receptionist.
“She said there had been a shooting at the school,” he said. “Obviously my heart sank.”
He said he prayed no one was hurt, as he turned his car around. “I’m just hoping to God…first of all, I was hoping no one was hit.”
McFerrin pointed out that the suspected gunman was not a student.
“I’ve been here now for close to 20 years, and we have worked with students who have issues and challenges in the public school system. Today was just an unfortunate thing,” McFerrin said. “I want to be clear that this was someone else. This wasn’t one of our students who committed this. This was an outside person from the community.” (click here to watch video of McFerrin)
Police initially thought the shooter might have been in the school and gathered officers to enter the building. They quickly found the wounded – who were all “conscious and talking” – and learned the gunman had never been inside. Once they determined the school was secure and safe, police ushered in Portland fire medics from nearby Station 24 to tend to the wounded. Students inside the school huddled in the library, and police later brought in pizza for them for lunch.
Parker Bolden, who lives at North Albina and Killingsworth Court, didn’t hear the gunshots but heard the sirens. When he went outside, he saw three students being loaded into separate ambulances. “I was outside maybe five minutes before they shot,” he said. “It’s pretty terrifying.”
Taylor’s aunt, Shawn Zimmers, 40, said she heard about the shooting in a phone call from the girl’s father and went to Legacy Emanuel Health Center.
“I’m just confused. All of these kids getting shot and killed. It doesn’t make any sense,” Shawn Zimmers said. “It’s not like it was when we were kids.”
Sierra Smith, 17, said she was in a government history class when the shooting occurred. Later, she said she saw one of the victims inside the school being helped by a teacher.
“He was laying on the ground,” Sierra said. “He had blood coming out of his stomach.”
Tracy Mendoza was working at a nearby decorating business, Royal’s Prop Shop, on North Killingsworth Court when she heard the gunshots. “We dove under our desks,” Mendoza said. Of the kids wounded, she said, “They were just standing on the corner at lunchtime.”
Jacal Hill, a 17-year-old senior, said she was among a mass of students lined up waiting for the school doors to unlock for lunch. Once outside, she had just turned the street corner when she said she heard shots behind her. Scared, she hid behind a car.
Rosemary Anderson student Anita Irakoze, 17, was outside buying snacks in the area when she said she heard four gunshots. “I just dropped by bags and I ran for my life,” she said.
Students said they were worried that the shooting would put a bad light on their school.
“It makes our school look bad” Crosier said, “but our school is not bad.”
The mayor and POIC’s president echoed those sentiments.
Hales praised Rosemary Anderson as a vital part of the community for providing “specialized attention to kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks.”
One of the wounded, Franklin, had spent the summer working as an intern in the mayor’s office through the SummerWorks Youth Program. Antoinette Edwards, director of the city’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention, came to the shooting scene Friday, and left in tears, heading to the hospital to see Franklin. She said she had mentored him.
“This is not a North Portland issue, or just a black issue or a ghetto type issue,” McFerrin said, after meeting with staff inside the school Friday night once detectives had left the scene. “This is an issue that schools face all around the country, with respect to violence. That’s why we work so hard to provide alternatives to these kinds of behaviors.”
As students were released from the school to reunite with their parents about one block away, McFerrin said he tried to comfort the parents and the shaken kids. “You just tell ’em you love them. You tell ’em you’re sorry they had to go through this,” he said.
McFerrin called Friday “the toughest…by far the toughest day on the job.”
He thanked soon-to-be Assistant Police Chief Kevin Modica for providing support to him and the school through the afternoon, and praised the quick actions of the teachers and staff.
When Modica was asked what he thought about the shooting occurring in the same spot where local youth this summer had painted a peace mural in an effort to reduce violence in the community, he said, “I’m aware of the mural. I think it’s purpose still stands.”
McFerrin promised the school would reopen Monday.
“We have to be here for our students and families,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
David Stabler, Brad Schmidt, Andew Theen, Everton Bailey and Kelly House of The Oregonian contributed to this report.
— Maxine Bernstein
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
Want something else to read? How about ‘Grievous Censorship’ By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed’s Blog