Florida Times-Union | By Dan Scanlan | May 12, 2022
The Sheriff’s Office’s mounted patrol slowly circled Andrew Jackson High School on Thursday, a day after a 17-year-old boy was shot on the sidewalk outside.
On each circuit, the horses and officers passed the spot where the teen was wounded in a broad-daylight drive-by, now marked by a First Coast Crime Stoppers sign on West 28th Street offering a reward for anonymous tips in the case.
The Sheriff’s Office said the teen was shot about 3 p.m. as he walked outside the technology magnet school joined by others, listed in serious but stable condition as of late Wednesday.
There was a lot of gunfire, one neighbor said as she watched the police horses go by Thursday morning.
“I heard maybe 10 to 11 shots, and I thought it was maybe firecrackers at first,” the woman said. “… Some of the children were coming out, then once it went off, everybody was screaming. Everybody was running as they were trying to get the kids back in school.”
Learning of the shooting, Families of Slain Children founder Beverly McLain said she rushed over to the high school to offer her agency’s help. After her son Andre Johnson was killed, she started the nonprofit in 2006 to help the families of children who are killed.
She said she was “depressed and scared” that another child had been shot and that it happened outside a school. She confirmed the victim is a student at Andrew Jackson, adding how it’s “not safe to go to school.”
“I was a bit overwhelmed because of the kids, trying to go home, and it didn’t make any sense,” McLain said. “A lot of the kids were sitting down, holding their heads and depressed. I heard one kid say, ‘We can’t go to school,’ and that’s when I said, ‘What is this world coming to?'”
Gunfire erupts, school takes measures
Police did not release much about the shooting.
A light-colored sport utility vehicle parked on Silver Street, on the south side of campus, pulled onto West 28th Street and multiple shots were fired from it, police said. The injured teen ran into the school for help.
Principal Truitte Moreland kept parents informed in two alerts, asking for their “thoughts and prayers for the victim,” who he said was on the sidewalk outside school during dismissal.
“Today was tragic for our school community,” Moreland’s latter alert said. “But I can honestly say that I was touched watching how students, staff and families came together in the aftermath.”
In that same alert, Moreland said the school and district took “extra steps to ensure the safety of our campus” then and for the foreseeable future.
The school, very quiet after classes began at 8 a.m. Thursday, conducted full screenings and backpack searches of all students as they entered. The campus had additional police there as school started and ended.
“In addition, we will be postponing all state and AP testing,” the alert said. “… And for any student who might be struggling emotionally, we will have crisis counselors available.”
No motive has been provided, although early indications could be it wasn’t random.
‘Still not slowing anything down’
The area where the school is located is not a safe one, another neighbor said.
“You have gangs, you have gunfire and all kinds of crimes going on. It’s crazy, it’s like a war zone,” he said as the mounted patrol made their way past. “I think it’s a good thing, having that [police presence] is going to show that they are starting to be a bit more serious about what’s going on because it shouldn’t happen.”
“We live in this area and it starts coming closer to home, and it’s scary,” added the first neighbor from earlier.
Wednesday’s bloodshed was not the only recent shooting to occur near a county high school. On March 8, 17-year-old Kaleb Floyd was killed after gunfire riddled a vehicle full of 17- to 18-year-olds near the First Coast High campus at Duval Station and Starratt roads, police said. The four males and two females inside the car tried to escape, driving to a subdivision in the 13000 block of Lanier Road where officers found them.
That came a week after another on Duval Station Road near the school, where four people in a gray sedan were fired upon about 2:30 p.m. in a parking lot, police said. A 16-year-old victim inside was hit, but the injury was not life-threatening.
Wednesday’s shooting leaves City Councilman Reggie Gaffney “frustrated” that a teen was again targeted near a school. After speaking to “shocked” parents and students outside Andrew Jackson following the shooting, he said he has called for a meeting of church pastors at noon Wednesday outside City Hall to pray and suggest solutions.
“For the first time in my life I feel like I was losing the battle because kids keep getting shot and keep getting their lives lost,” said Gaffney, whose district includes Andrew Jackson as well as First Coast high schools.
“All we are doing is still not slowing anything down, so as a leader I am so frustrated,” Gaffney said. “That’s why I am calling on the churches to partner with the city to see whatever it looks like, I need their help. It could have been so much worse because when kids leave school, they often walk together. So we are blessed in a way, but we have to do something different right now.”
Gaffney joined other city leaders at a March 19 crime prevention meeting at Oceanway Church after a rash of shootings that included those near First Coast High. He also contributed to a $330,000 fund to be distributed to nonprofit agencies to start programs for at-risk youth in the community, with help from Jacksonville’s Safety and Crime Commission.
Concerns abound, safety the priority
Meanwhile, as the Sheriff’s Office investigated the Andrew Jackson shooting late Wednesday, Duval County Schools Police Chief Gregory Burton said the extra security on campus on Thursday meant “Your students are safe in our schools.”
And while nothing has happened at Stanton College Preparatory School, across North Myrtle Avenue from McLain’s agency, she said she knows her building might become a refuge if something does.
“I know a lot of them will run over here because it’s safe over here,” McLain said. “A lot of them come this way when they get out of school. It’s just heartbreaking to know that our city has come to this, and it’s happening more and more.”
Mandarin High School also had a staggered dismissal on Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution” when students alerted officials about rumors of an off-campus issue, district officials said.
“While we are not aware of a specific threat to our school community, and we certainly haven’t seen any evidence of a firearm on campus, in the interest of doing everything we can to ensure a safe campus, we decided to add this additional layer of security,” Principal Sara Bravo’s alert said the next day.
That campus also added metal detectors and a full screening of students for Thursday. Mandarin High also increased the number of daily classroom searches for the remainder of the week, limited student movement during classes and continued to stagger dismissal times to allow all students to reach their buses and cars without stress, Bravo said.