Residents in Newport News, Virginia gathered Tuesday night to pray for peace and unity within their community after two high school students were injured during a shooting inside the school Monday.
Newport News police officers arrived at Heritage High School and found two 17-year-old victims, a boy and a girl, suffering from non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.
The suspect, a 15-year-old male, was taken into custody by police.
The prayer vigil was organized by Dr. Tremayne Johnson, president of the Coalition of Concerned Clergy. Johnson told WTKR News that everyone is still shaken over the incident.
“Twenty-four hours is still a shock,” Johnson said, adding that community members are offering support to the children in hopes of preventing future occurrences.
“Not to overreact, but to really react in a way that is responsible that we can talk calmly about how we can move ahead,” Johnson explained.
He said meetings are underway to address Monday’s shooting as well as the gun violence that occurred throughout the area this past summer.
“Folks thinking farther than picking up the gun,” Johnson said. “What other avenues can we come together and talk out anger? Talk out things that we may not agree with. We all have disagreements. We all come to the point where we may not agree with one another, but there is a way to handle it.”
In a statement, Police Chief Steve Drew said it was a blessing from God that the outcome wasn’t worse.
“It is by the grace of God there was no loss of life,” Drew said. “We know this will be difficult to process for everyone involved and hope students, families, and faculty members take advantage of the resources that have been made available to help them cope with what happened yesterday at Heritage High School.”
Local resident Crystal Scott said it’s crucial that people work together to resolve the city’s crime issue.
“We have to get control of the violence, get control of the gangs, get control of everybody that’s trying to cause harm to someone,” she said. “Just to let them know that we’ve got your back. If y’all need help, we’re here for y’all.”
Newport News School Superintendent George Parker recalled the fear among students and staff during those terrifying moments.
“No superintendent, no teacher or principal would want to ever go through this situation,” Parker said. “Just seeing the faces of our students and how afraid they were under these circumstances and our staff who were traumatized. No one would want to go through these circumstances.”
Additionally, Chief Drew said the shooting was particularly troubling for the police officers because many have children or family members who attend the school.
“We do the best we can to prepare, but this is different – there’s real human emotion,” Drew said. “I will tell you, there are some who I will encourage – that’s a nice way of saying they’re going to talk to the psychologist to make sure everyone is okay.”
Classes at Heritage High School were canceled Tuesday, according to district spokeswoman, Michelle Price. Officials are working to determine when the school will reopen for instruction.