On Tuesday, hundreds of people were leaving a downtown theater in Richmond, Virginia after attending a high school graduation ceremony when shots went out, killing two and wounding seven, according to authorities and witnesses.
During a late-night news conference, Interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards acknowledged the deaths of two people and announced that a 19-year-old suspect who had attempted to flee on foot had been apprehended and would be charged with two charges of second-degree murder.
Outside the Altria Theater, owned by the city and located in the heart of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus, a gunman opened fire, killing at least two people and wounding five more in the state capital. Police say that at least 12 additional people were hurt or treated for anxiety as a result of the chaos.
“As they heard the gunfire, it was obviously chaos,” Edwards said. “We had hundreds of people in Monroe Park, so people scattered. It was very chaotic at the scene.”According to Edwards, one of the victims was a male student who had recently graduated at the age of 18, and the other was a male graduate guest who was 36 years old.
Police believe the suspect, who has not yet been named, knew at least one of the victims, but have not revealed their identities. “This should have been a safe space. People should have felt safe at graduation,” Edwards said.
“It’s just incredibly tragic that someone decided to bring a gun to this incident and rain terror on our community.” VCU Health System spokesman Mary Kate Brogan said late Tuesday that six persons were rushed to VCU Medical Center with serious to critical injuries.
There were several handguns that were found. Edwards clarified that one of the two individuals initially reported held by police turned out to be innocent. Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond, has vowed to bring those responsible to justice. “This should not be happening anywhere,” Stoney said.
Around 5:15 p.m., Edwards said, officers inside the auditorium where the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony was being held heard gunfire and radioed to officers stationed outside, where they discovered many victims.
Graduates and other attendees were leaving the building when they heard around 20 gunshots, according to Jonathan Young, a member of the school board, who spoke to the Richmond television station WWBT.
“That prompted, as you would expect, hundreds of persons in an effort to flee the gunfire to return to the building,” Young said. “It materialized in a stampede,” he said. Police spokesperson Tracy Walker said that nine persons were treated at the scene for minor injuries or anxiety, two for falls, and one for non-life threatening injuries after being hit by a car.
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Superintendent Jason Kamras of the Richmond Public Schools has stated that the graduates were outside taking pictures with their loved ones when the incident occurred. “I don’t have any more words on this,” Kamras said. “I’m just tired of seeing people get shot, our kids get shot. And I beg of the entire community to stop, to just stop.”
John Willard, a 69-year-old neighbor, rushed out onto the balcony of his 18th-floor apartment when he heard the gunfire and then the sirens. He looked down and saw graduates running away as parents clung to their kids.
Willard added, “there was one poor woman in front of the apartment block next to ours who was wailing and crying,” and that the sight made him feel terrible. Outside the auditorium, as the students were leaving the ceremony, Edythe Payne was helping her daughter sell flowers to them.
According to her statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the gunfire sparked fear on neighboring Main Street. “I felt bad because some elderly people were at the graduation and they got knocked down to the ground,” Payne said.
The below tweet verifies the news:
Two people were killed in a shooting after a high school graduation ceremony in Virginia’s capital, police said. A total of seven people were shot. https://t.co/fzxL1fEOER
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 7, 2023
The school system announced that “out of an abundance of caution” they would be closing schools on Wednesday and canceling a different graduation planned for later Tuesday. The latest mass shooting in a country that has become accustomed to such events has renewed cries for change.
“The gun violence epidemic is a public health crisis that we must address,” U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat whose district includes Richmond, said in a statement. “We cannot continue to live in fear. We must address the root causes of gun violence and pass common sense gun safety policies that protect our communities.”
In comments to media outlets near the scene, Republican Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears, an ardent gun-rights enthusiast, claimed that the problem is not with guns but with criminals. “We have to figure out what’s going on in our communities,” she said.
Reporters Beatrice Dupuy and Jonathan Drew from the Associated Press contributed from New York and Raleigh, North Carolina, respectively.
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