Martinsville school shooting creates anxiety for community
Martinsville - Hundreds of anxious parents waited all morning to pick up their children after a shooting left one student critically injured.
It happened at Martinsville West Middle School just after 7:00 am. Police say a male student shot another male student twice in the abdomen. The shooting suspect is in custody and the victim, 15-year-old Chance Jackson, underwent surgery at Methodist Hospital. Police recovered the weapon after searching the area for hours.
"All of a sudden, I heard Mr. Helms was saying 'Step back!' He locked all the doors, checked all the blinds. Everybody was going crazy," said student Riley Skojac.
Worried parents gathered outside the school waiting for word on when they could pick up their children.
"I'm worried about my kid. I'm wondering if she's okay. You wouldn't know something like this would happen. It's just scary. You don't think things like this would happen," said Tammy Perry.
"I'm just kind of a bucket of nerves. He is okay. He called me from someone else's phone. He was not around at the shooting. He was in another part of the building," said another parent.
There was some initial confusion about where parents could pick up their children. Police kept the students at the school following the shooting so they could question witnesses. Parents arrived hoping to pick up their students, but had to wait. Many did not want their students to take the bus home. All Martinsville schools dismissed early.
When the school's principal came out to guide the school's early dismissal, parents had questions.
"I've been told by many, many students that go this school, and that go to the high school, that you were told this morning by three different children that the boy had a gun," said Christie Bunton.
"That's not true," the principal responded.
"It's all over Facebook," Bunton said.
"That's not true," the principal repeated.
"I have a child that goes here and I'm very concerned."
"That could be a malicious type rumor," the principal said.
Among the Facebook comments posted by the suspect:
"Today is the day."
"You will hear about it."
"Don't use your mind, use your nine."
Other students and parents who experienced the lockdown and security precautions after the shooting praised the school's handling of the emergency. After starting the lockdown, the school system sent messages to parents telling them of the emergency and pick-up procedures.
"We had a terrible incident at West Middle School today, involving the shooting of a student," said a voicemail to parents from Superintendent Ron Furniss.
"I don't have any fear they're not safe. School did all they could to take care of it," said parent Angela Maschino. "I just wanted to get my kid out of school."
Speaking at a news conference in the afternoon, Randy Taylor - Assistant Superintendent for Business with the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, said, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and to his family. The entire Martinsville school community is extremely saddened by this tragedy."
"This is a difficult day for our students, parents and faculty. We are very troubled by the senseless act of violence that took place in our school. The student the police have in custody is a former student. As a result, this student was no longer a student, and should not have been on our school property," Taylor added.
Counselors were available for teachers and students Friday, and will be available after spring break.
Taylor said the school district will increase security.
Leda Marion teaches at an inner city school and has two children at Martinsville West.
"When my husband called me, I always expected it to be at the school I teach at, not where my kids go," she said.
Marion was able to contact her children after the shooting while they were still being held at school.
"Thank God for cell phones. They were able to text us and tell us they were okay. Later they called us and we were able to hear their voices and talk to them," she said. "One of my boys said he heard it, and then he heard the teacher say get in the classroom. Immediately they were forced into classrooms."
Marion says she's spoken to her children about the possibility of school violence "especially with my job. My husband's also been deployed to Iraq and Iran so we've talked about gunshots and things like that a lot."
A man at the suspect's mother's house had few words when asked about the incident.
"It's pretty hard," he said.
Chance Jackson's family says he is out of surgery and is in stable condition.