Frederick police were still trying to determine how many culprits were involved in a shooting outside a junior varsity basketball game at Frederick High School.
Initial reports Wednesday night indicated that four black males dressed in black were likely responsible for the shooting that left two teenage boys injured outside the gymnasium at 8:11 p.m.
As of Thursday, however, Frederick police spokesman Capt. Richard Hetherington said detectives were still sifting through too many different witness accounts to be sure.
“We had hundreds of interviews conducted last night from students to faculty and parents, everyone who was present when the shooting went down, so we’ve had varying descriptions as to the numbers or exact descriptions of the suspects,” Hetherington said.
Frederick Police Lt. Joe Hayer said that “there’s quite a few leads we’re following up on,” but there were no known suspects as of Thursday night.
Investigators were waiting to review surveillance footage taken from the school building Thursday, as well as videos offered by parents, coaches and others who were at the school in the hopes of gleaning more information about the attackers, Hetherington said.
Tyler Nichols, 17, a Frederick High senior who was at the game, said he was visiting the concession area during the game when he saw four young men dressed in black and wearing hoodies walk into the school well before the shooting. The four lingered in the lobby, he said.
Nichols’ account matches that of a description passed along to Tim May, vice president of May Security Services, by one of his employees who provided security at the game.
“They said they saw what they told me what looked like gangsters who were trying to cover up their faces, they had hoods on,” May said. “(The group) eventually ended up going outside and then (the guard) heard an argument outside and, as he was walking over to see what it was about, he heard the gunshots.”
Ultimately, the surveillance footage and information from the two injured students will be the best starting point for detectives to identify the assailants, Hetherington said.
“We had detectives with them at the hospital last night, but the extent of information that they were able to get from them, I’m not aware (of),” Hetherington said Thursday. “We’ll be in contact with them again shortly. Hopefully, they will be our best witnesses in this event.”
One teen was shot in the leg, and the other was shot in the back, police said in a news release. They remained hospitalized Thursday night, according to Hayer.
The names of the two wounded students have not been released, and it was not clear which school either attended. Police believe the assailants knew the teens, according to a police news release.
“This shooting is not believed to be a random incident,” the release states. “Investigators believe the suspects and victims were known to one another.”
State Delegate David E. Vogt III, who visited the injured students at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after hearing about the shooting late Wednesday, said one of the students was alert and able to speak.
“His biggest concern was for his friend, the other victim. I wasn’t able to talk to the other victim because his injuries were quite a bit more severe,” Vogt said.
The delegate said he didn’t know the students or their families personally but felt that as an elected official, he should offer his support to them.
Police also spoke with the injured students, but Hetherington was describing them only as teenage males, declining to provide their exact ages or other details about them.
Denise Pouget, director of the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services, said she heard that the two injured students were 14 and 15 years old Wednesday night as they were flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment. She could not confirm whether that information was correct Thursday.
Chaos at the school
The game clock was winding down when the first shots rang out over the sound of Frederick students trying to cheer their team to a come-from-behind victory against Gov. Thomas Johnson High School’s junior varsity team, Nichols said.
The shots were fired, but Nichols said he didn’t immediately comprehend what he was hearing.
“I heard the gunshot, and I didn’t think anything of it because that’s not something that would pop into my head,” Nichols said.
As more gunshots sounded, the spectators began yelling and running toward the gymnasium’s exit doors, which were quickly blocked by security guards, Nichols said. The guards and school staff ushered students and other spectators into the locker rooms, where some cried and others tried to contact family and friends on the outside, Nichols said.
After about 15 minutes, they were moved into the cafeteria to wait and watch as SWAT teams in helmets and heavy body armor combed through the school building, Nichols said. Knots of students formed to talk, and one group began to pray, he said.
The crowd slowly thinned over the next few hours, as students were shuttled to a nearby bowling alley to reunite with their parents. Nichols said he was among the last to be interviewed by detectives and wasn’t released until about 11:30 p.m.
Frederick High and nearby West Frederick Middle School were closed Thursday to allow police to continue investigating and collect evidence.
Cpl. Andrew Alcorn led a group of more than 20 police cadets as well as CSI experts and other detectives to scour the school grounds for evidence.
“We’re looking for any and everything that we think could possibly be related to the investigation,” Alcorn said. “It could be anything as small as a stick; it could be a shell casing.”
Hayer said Frederick police recovered some items during the search of the area but would not disclose what they were.
Gov. Thomas Johnson High School opened on time Thursday after Frederick County Public Schools officials decided that the school was safe, Superintendent Theresa Alban said at a press briefing early Thursday at Frederick High.
Alexis Burton, a senior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High, said the school day “felt normal” and that she did not notice an increased police presence in the school. However, Burton said she saw many teachers in the hallways.
Caitlin von Garrel, 14, a freshman, said in an email that the school’s atmosphere was serious and that “nobody was really joking around.”
“The teachers were also affected,” von Garrel wrote in an email. “Some of them started to choke (up) and start tearing up during class.”
Yvonne Coleman, whose daughter is a junior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High, said that although the shooting at Frederick High School was “disturbing,” she was not surprised.
“There’s a lot of uncontrollable and erratic behavior over there,” Coleman said, referring to Frederick High. “The administration and staff have their hands full.”
“If my daughter attended Frederick High School, yesterday would’ve been her last day,” Coleman said.
Many Frederick High School students took to Twitter to show their support, using the hashtags #FHSSTRONG and #PrayForFHS.
‘Everything was done correctly’
Alban and Board of Education President Brad Young were impressed with the way school staff and law enforcement followed emergency procedures in the wake of the shooting.
“Everything was done correctly,” Young said.
“You really can see planning, collaboration,” Alban said in a taped address posted on YouTube.
She and Young made the video recording at 1 a.m. Thursday, so the public would know about the availability of counselors at the schools and the safe environment they believe to be present at both schools, Young said.
This was the first on-campus shooting for Frederick County Public Schools, although emergency protocols have been implemented at times when serious crimes have occurred near a school, said Michael Doerrer, school system spokesman.
The shooting does not reflect the normal character of either school, Young and Alban said. Young, a Gov. Thomas Johnson High alumnus, said the athletic rivalry is real but friendly.
“I don’t want a handful of students to define what those schools are like and what this community is like,” Alban said.
The shooting may not have involved anything related to either school but merely something that spilled over onto the high school, Young said.
Frederick High School and West Frederick Middle School are scheduled to open today, Doerrer said.
Detectives were fairly certain how many shots were fired and how many weapons were involved in the shooting, but Hetherington said he was not able to release those details Thursday.
At least early on in the investigation, there was much more information that the department was not yet able to confirm, Hetherington said, stressing the importance of steering clear of speculation regarding the motive of those responsible or rumors that the shooting was prompted by a gang feud between students.
“We’ve heard the same chatter, it’s certainly a possibility and something that we’ll be investigating, but until we have a firmer grasp on the identities of the suspects, we can’t say anything for sure,” Hetherington said. “Until we have more details, I’m not even going to attempt to comment on that.”
Police were eager to hear from anyone with further information regarding the identities of the shooters or the shooting itself, the captain said. Tips can be called in to Sgt. Aaron Lapp at 301-600-6390.
Tipsters can also leave information anonymously for police by calling 301-600-8477 or via text to 240-674-8477.