Cummings K-8 Optional School became a disturbing crime scene Thursday just after 9 a.m. when one student gunned down another student in the stairwell of the South Memphis school. Both were only 13.
According to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital officials, the child was in critical condition for most of the day and is expected to make a full recovery.
Hundreds of parents and relatives made a frantic dash to the school as news broke of the shooting. After an immediate lockdown, students were transported by the busloads down the street to nearby Metropolitan Baptist Church to be reunited with loved ones.
“I’m really a nervous wreck right now,” wrote Erika Kelley, sharing her experience during the immediate aftermath of the horrific event on social media. “My grandson is a student at Cummings Elementary, where the shooting took place, and we are still waiting on him to come out.”
After finally uniting with her grandson, Kelley gave him a big hug. Later she told her Facebook friends that, “This was an experience for not only my grandson, but all those children this morning. … “(He) said, ‘Grandmomma, I had a plan.’ He said he had two pencils and found a hiding place…Praying for the child that was shot, along with everyone involved.”
In the late afternoon of the harrowing day of many tense moments and tearful reunions, Shelby County Schools Supt. Dr. Joris Ray held a press briefing at Metropolitan Baptist Church to deliver an update.
“At approximately 9 a.m. this morning, our school district became the latest in a far too long line of school systems that have experienced the unthinkable, the unacceptable scourge of gun violence,” said Ray. “Schools should be a place to run to, not run from. This has to stop. This gun violence has to stop. We must all step up and do more, including this superintendent.”
Deputy Chief Don Crowe with the Memphis Police Department stepped to the podium, noted that it was an ongoing criminal investigation and then shared some details.
Asked if the students knew each other and what were the circumstances leading up to the shooting, Crowe said:
“The shooting occurred in a stairwell inside the school. And from the video evidence that we reviewed, there were no other students around when it occurred. …The investigators have been very thorough. … But we think the motive and the actions that led up to the shooting are best saved for the court case.”
The 13-year-old suspect remains in custody and is expected to be charged with criminal attempt, first-degree murder.
“We also have to think, ‘How does a 13 year old get his hands on a gun?” said Crowe. “This is a question that we may never get the whole truth. Everyone, keep your guns secure so a 13 year old cannot get a hold of it.”
According to police, the shooter ran from the scene and got into a waiting vehicle before surrendering at a police precinct.
Barry Gilmore, chief medical officer at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, spoke briefly about the victim.
“…Fortunately, as you already heard, our youngster has done well,” said Gilmore, noting “the excellent treatment of our trauma team.”
Like other parts of the country, Memphis has seen increasing levels of gunshot injuries during this pandemic, said Gilmore. “So far this year, we have treated over 100 children with gunshot wounds.”
Ray praised Cummings’ staff and students for their execution of the district’s Emergency Preparedness Plan after the sounding of the active-shooter.
“Whether we will have more school resource officers (SROs) is a conversation we will have in coming days,” he said.
Despite metal detectors at Cummings, the student was able to get a gun into the school. Crowe said the details of how that happened is part of the investigation.
Ray said Cummings metal detector searches are conducted daily.
Crowe said children are encouraged to be a part of “Trust Pays,” a reporting system for children.
“They can call us on the 528-CASH (2274),” said Crowe. “Children are encouraged to say something if they see something: guns, drugs, and other criminal activities may be anonymously reported.”
Gun violence, Ray said, has no place in school.
“Literacy is life, not guns,” said Ray. “We are all parents. The work is personal.”
Cummings opened for a new school day Friday morning.