BALTIMORE (AP) — A special education assistant at a Baltimore high school was wounded by gunfire Friday after confronting an armed intruder trying to enter the sprawling building. Officials sprang into lockdown mode as the sound of gunshots reverberated through the building packed with students.
A 25-year-old man entered the Frederick Douglass High School lobby around noon and got into some kind of argument with the staffer as he was serving as a hall monitor, according to investigators. Police said they would release his name once he'd been charged and processed.
The 56-year-old school employee was shot in the lower torso. Baltimore City Public Schools said he was shot by a relative of a student.
Authorities credited the quick action of school police who swiftly apprehended and disarmed the shooter. All students and other staffers were safe but the experience with gun violence in their school lobby was traumatic. Students said they were on lockdown for roughly an hour before being escorted out.
"I'm not going to lie: I was scared at first. All I heard was there was fighting and gunshots at the doors, and then we went on lockdown," said Kairon Slay, a 14-year-old ninth grader, as he gathered with several classmates at a shopping mall across the street from his high school, now cordoned off with yellow police tape.
There was a meeting at the high school when the intruder walked in, and it's thought the man wanted to confront someone inside, Baltimore police Col. Byron Conaway said at a news conference.
The wounded hall monitor and special education assistant, who students said was also an athletics coach, was in serious but stable condition. Authorities did not release his name.
"In a city where violence is too present, our schools must be havens of safety and peace, where confrontation and weapons have no place. I can tell you that both our officers and our injured staff member did everything to ensure the safety of our students," said Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises.
G'Mar Matthews, an 18-year-old senior, said metal detectors at the school's main entrance were generally deactivated after classes begin for the day. "They don't keep those things on all day," he said.
A number of parents said they were exasperated that administrators did not notify them about the shooting incident even well after their children were escorted out of the building.
"We didn't hear a thing from the school. We only learned about the shooting from a cousin who works for the school system. A message would have been nice," said Keith Young, a claims adjuster who rushed through traffic to pick up his stepson, Terrence, a 10th grader.
Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of Baltimore's school police union, said there was no telling what the gunman might have done if one unarmed law enforcer and two unarmed officers weren't nearby when the violence erupted. He criticized a recent unanimous vote by Baltimore's school board rejecting firearms for school resource officers posted to city schools.
"My question is: How does that 10-0 vote look now?" Boatwright asked outside the school.
It's far from clear whether having armed officers in schools makes students and staff safer. An Associated Press review last year suggested that adding more officers and armed guards or arming teachers would almost certainly have unintended consequences.
During last year's mass shooting at a Florida high school, an armed school resource officer heard the attacker's gunfire but didn't run in and try to stop the attack.
Also last year, a school resource officer in Maryland's St. Mary's County fired at a student gunman after he mortally wounded 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey before killing himself. Officials said the law enforcer responded immediately and fired a shot that hit the gun in the teen's hand just as he shot himself in the head.
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