An 18-year-old student who had just graduated from high school was killed alongside his stepfather when a gunman opened fire on hundreds of people who gathered in the park of the downtown Richmond, Virginia.
Shawn Jackson, 18, and his stepfather, Renzo Smith, 36, died in the Monroe Park shooting Tuesday afternoon around 5 p.m., the graduate’s mother Tameeka Jackson-Smith confirmed to The Associated Press.
She said she and Smith’s nine-year-old daughter were hit by a car in the chaos that erupted afterwards. The girl was treated for leg injuries and released from hospital.
Five other people, ages 14 to 58, were injured Tuesday in the shooting, which sent hundreds fleeing in panic outside the Altria Theater in the state capital after the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony. At least one is in critical condition, while the others suffered non-life-threatening injuries. At least 12 other people were injured or treated for chaos anxiety, police said.
The suspect, Amari Pollard, 19, was arraigned Wednesday morning on two counts of second-degree murder, Colette McEachin, a prosecutor, said in an email to The Associated Press.
Shawn Jackson, 18 (right) and his stepfather, Renzo Smith, 36 (left) died in the shooting in Monroe Park on Tuesday afternoon around 5 p.m.
Smith used to serve in the military, according to his wife’s Facebook page
Pollard said he intended to hire a lawyer, so the court continued the case until a hearing scheduled for later this month, McEachin wrote.
Pollard is being held without bond. Police believe Jackson and Pollard were rivals.
“They knew each other and had an ongoing dispute,” Police Chief Rick Edwards said.
Jackson-Smith said the family had just watched the graduation, then parted ways in a large crowd after walking out. “He was so happy – oh my God – because he graduated. He worked hard.’
A GoFundMe was launched for the Jackson-Smith family, raising over $10,000 of its $200,000 goal.
She said she was walking towards her husband and son in a nearby park to reunite when she saw a man running behind them and starting shooting.
“I don’t know if he was shooting everyone because so many people got shot all over the area.” There were about seven people on the ground,” she said.
The suspect, Amari Pollard, 19 (pictured), was arrested on Wednesday morning on two counts of second degree murder. He pleaded not guilty
Jackson (right) had just graduated when he was shot
“He was so happy – oh my God – because he graduated. He worked hard,” his mother said
Jackson pictured as a small child at an unknown time
Edwards said “hundreds” were standing in Monroe Park when Pollard allegedly started shooting.
“It was very chaotic at the scene,” he told a news conference. “When they heard the shots, it was obviously chaos.”
Dozens of shots were fired, witnesses said, and police recovered four guns from the scene, WRIC reported.
All public schools in Richmond closed on Wednesday, with Superintendent Jason Kamras saying he “had no more words on this.”
“I’m just tired of people getting shot, our kids getting shot. And I beg the whole community to stop, just stop,” he said.
He described Shawn as “bubbly and the life of the party”.
“Getting to graduation wasn’t easy. Nonetheless he made it. And he was rightly proud and smiling and celebrating like all his peers. And then a few minutes later, as was enjoying the time with his family in Monroe Park, he was shot,” he said.
“I still can’t shake the image of Shawn receiving CPR on the floor, still in his graduation gown.”
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears blamed the violence on gangs and asked when “enough is enough”.
Pollard is scheduled to return to court on June 21 at 9 a.m. He pleaded not guilty.
Smith’s nine-year-old daughter was also injured after being hit by a car in the chaos (Picture: Smith)
Smith pictured with his wife Tameeka Jackson-Smith, he was killed in a shooting during a graduation in Virginia on Tuesday
Witnesses also recounted their experiences.
Talk with NBC12Jason Alexander said he was only 10 feet from the crossfire when hundreds of people began to take cover.
“We are waiting for my son to come out,” Alexander said.
“Behind us, we’re probably 10 feet behind us. We heard fireworks.
Earlier reports and video of the scene said the shooter fired around 20 shots.
Alexander said he heard less as he maneuvered the chaotic scene before him.
“Everyone started running, and I pushed her to the ground, and we lay on the ground, and it was just chaos from there,” he said.
“You kept hearing gunshots. It was just eight, nine, ten strokes.
Alexander’s sister Robin Spencer gave a moving account, wiping tears from her face as she spoke of her disbelief to the broadcaster.
“Who the hell would do that at these kids’ graduation?” Spencer said. “There are tons of kids. People are walking around with babies.