The sharp increase in violence among juveniles in Erie hit the city’s largest school on Tuesday, when a student was shot inside Erie High, sending the Erie police scrambling to find the suspect and prompting a «devastated» Erie School District to cancel classes at the 2,300-student Erie High for the rest of the week.
Police said Tuesday afternoon that they had identified a suspect and were searching for the person, whom they did not identify.
The district made the cancellation announcement at 12:26 p.m. on Tuesday, about three hours after the shooting. The district said the change applies only to Erie High. All classes, in-person and virtual, will not take place at the school.
The district is on spring break next week and on April 18, meaning that Erie High will have nearly two weeks to recover from the shooting without students in session.
In a statement it issued on the shooting, the Erie School District said the incident involved «multiple shots.» According to the statement:
«A student who was injured during a shooting at Erie High School Tuesday morning is in stable condition.
«Multiple shots were fired shortly after 9:20 a.m. inside the building at 3325 Cherry St., Erie, prompting a hard lockdown. As of noon Tuesday, officers from Erie’s Public Schools police department and the Erie Bureau of Police were investigating and continuing to search for a known person of interest who fled the building.
«Students were dismissed classroom-by-classroom about an hour after the shooting, after district and city police officers searched and secured the building.»
«We are devastated and angered by this senseless tragedy, and we are all hoping for the full and speedy recovery of the student involved,» Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito said in the statement. «I want to thank district and city police for their very prompt and thorough response.
«Incidents like these are a reflection of a troubling rise in youth violence in Erie,» Polito said. «As we ask the entire community to come together to address this challenge, we are working on a comprehensive plan for students and staff to safely return to school. The well-being of our students and staff is and always will be our priority, and we will take every measure possible to ensure their safety and security.»
The district said it will release detailed information about the return-to-school plan for Erie High in the coming days. In the meantime, the district said counselors and other professionals for students, staff and parents will be available at the Erie Center for Arts & Technology, 650 East Ave., beginning Tuesday at 1 p.m. Other locations for support services may be announced in the near future, the district said.
The student who was shot suffered «non-life-threating injuries» on Tuesday morning, and the shooter then fled the school, Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny said. The police also reported the victim was in «good condition» at the hospital.
Police did not release details on where the shooting occurred, but the president of the Erie Education Association teachers’ union said it occurred in hallway. Students and teachers witnessed the shooting, the president, MaryTheuerkauf, said in a statement.
The shooter was not in custody as of Tuesday morning, Spizarny said. The Erie School District initially reported a person was in custody, but a district spokeswoman said that information was released in error.
Spizarny was interviewed by phone. At a news conference at the school at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Inspector Mike Nolan reiterated that the victim’s injuries were not life threatening, but said police could provide no other details on how the shooting occurred.
«A firearm was discharged inside the building,» Nolan said.
Nolan is serving as acting police chief this week while Spizarny is out of town.
Nolan did not comment on the status of the suspect, but said police «do not believe there is a threat on scene,» referring to Erie High, where students were being dismissed. Police said at 12:45 p.m. that all students had left the building, and that the police had released the building back to the school district.
In an interview, Nolan said the shooting happened inside the building. He said investigators have located what they believe is the «crime scene,» but he declined to disclose where in the building the student was shot.
Nolan also declined to release any information about the student who was shot, including the student’s gender, though a male victim was seen being placed in an ambulance on a stretcher.
Nolan said police did «a very slow and thorough search» of the 500,000-square-foot Erie High, but said the police believed that no imminent threat existed at the school after the shooting.
Police confirmed that the call came for the shooting at around 9:25 a.m. on Tuesday. Police, firefighters and other emergency personnel rushed to the scene. Erie police were joined at the scene by Pennsylvania State Police troopers, Millcreek Township Police Department officers, Erie County sheriff’s deputies and Erie County detectives.
The victim left the scene in an ambulance at around 9:45 a.m.
Later in the day, Erie County District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz said that her office had been in constant contact with law enforcement regarding the shooting investigation. Hirz said the investigation is ongoing, and he deferred all questions to law enforcement.
‘I was panicking’
With more than 2,300 students, Erie High is the largest school in the Erie School District, which has more than 10,000 students. While Erie High was locked down, the district’s other high school, Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, was in a «soft lockdown» for a time, a student said. Students are kept in classrooms and other areas during a soft lockdown.
Outside Erie High on Tuesday, parents and students were apprehensive as they waited for children and classmates to leave the building.
Darel Williams, 48, waited at West 34th and Peach streets with his wife Mara Williams, 44.
Their son, Jaden Williams, 15, a ninth grader at Erie High School, had not been allowed to leave yet.
«We’re waiting patiently, like every parent,» Darel Williams said. «(I’m) very nervous, and thinking about tomorrow and the rest of the school year, and what is that going to bring.»
Sharteya Evans leaned against a black police cruiser parked at West 34th and Peach streets with her father Rusty Jackson, while waiting for Sharteya’s daughter and Jackson’s granddaughter, Julieonna Roye, 15, a sophomore culinary student at Erie High School.
«She texted me around — I want to say — 9:25 a.m.,» said Evans, 36. «She said, ‘Mom, somebody is shooting.’ Two minutes later we got an Erie alert that there’s a gunshot victim. As soon as I heard that, My manager at my job did 65 down Peach Street and brought me here.»
«I’m a little calm now that I know she’s fine and everything is OK,» Evans said. «But at first, I was honestly panicking because this is not something you hear often in Erie.»
Juvenile violence a concern
The shooting occurred as the Erie police and the Erie School District have been dealing with a rise in gun violence among juveniles, including officials said is related to gang activity.
Polito’s administration has said it is working on ways to improve security, though an Erie School District official said at the news conference that the district had not been using metal detectors at Erie High. The district is known to use security wands to check students for weapons and other contraband.
Responding to threats: How unfounded threats of violence to Erie-area schools stir stress, create more work
Theuerkauf, the EEA president, criticized the school district’s security measures in the written statement she released on the shooting.
«For years, we have demanded that the City of Erie School District Administration and the School Directors confront a multitude of safety and security threats our staff have brought before them,» according to the statement. «Each time, we’re told, ‘it will take time, we’re working on it.’
«While they ‘worked on it,’ the life-threatening consequences of their inaction came to a reality this morning for students and teachers who witnessed a student shoot another student in our school hallway. The District’s failure to prevent this has produced a trauma that will echo through the hallways of each building as we wonder where this may happen next. Not only are the lives of the child who was shot and the child who pulled the trigger irrevocably changed now, but also the lives of the teachers and children who witnessed it.
«No bureaucracy is worth a human life. We will not stand by one day more until the safety of our students and staff is properly addressed. This is a demand, not a suggestion, that Administration and School Board start acting to protect the lives in our buildings.”
Erie Mayor Joe Schember expressed support for everyone involved in the incident.
«Schools should be safe places where children learn and grow,» Schember said in a statement. «I am receiving great updates from Superintendent Brian Polito and Police Chief Dan Spizarny. I know this is difficult for parents to hear but remember: all students are now safe.»
«My thoughts and prayers are with the students, teachers, administrators, and all the police officers who have secured the building,» Schember said. «What they all need right now is our love and support.»
This is a developing story. Return to GoErie.com for updates.
Managing editor Christopher Millette contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie school shooting: Police confirm one person injured