A night of celebration for more than 10,000 Washington area high school seniors ended in panic and fear here Friday night when a Lanham, Md., student was shot while waiting to have his picture taken.
James Derek Hughes, 18, was attending Grad Night at Kings Dominion, the 400-acre theme park, when he was shot in the chest. Several shots were fired at about 11 p.m. -- the police cannot say by whom or why -- and hundreds of students began a stampede for the gates.
"People were screaming, they were tearing up bushes and scratching at each other," said Renee Gause, of Forestville, Md., who was nearby at the time of the shooting. "It was horrible."
Hughes, who according to neighbors is a senior at DuVal High School in Prince George's County, was rushed by helicopter to Richmond, where he underwent surgery for severe internal bleeding at the Medical College of Virginia. Hospital spokesmen said today that he was in critical condition.
Hanover County investigators said that there are no suspects, nor have they found anyone who saw the person who fired the shots, even though the shooting occurred in front of a crowded arcade at the park.
"I don't know much at all," said Howard Wray, who is heading the investigation for the county sheriff's department. "We think three shots were fired, but we don't even know how close they were to the victim. It could have been random. We have descriptions of people seen running from the scene, but there were hundreds of them."
No weapon has been found on the grounds of the park, according to police.
Grad Night's beginning -- which consisted mostly of long, but quiet, lines of students eager to defy gravity and their common sense -- did not suggest its conclusion.
One night each year, Kings Dominion is open only to high school seniors and their guests. Liquor is prohibited and chaperones encouraged.
For most of Friday evening, it seemed that the only anguish would be confined to those denied the opportunity to wrench their innards on the Berserker, a circular ride that appears to train its passengers for jobs as astronauts.
Water rides had the longest lines, with hundreds of students waiting to get soaked.
But the newest attraction at the park, Diamond Falls, was probably the most popular place to be on the sultry evening. The ride plunges 1,000 feet over a cascading waterfall.
Like thousands of other Washington area residents, Hughes had made the 85-mile trip Friday afternoon with friends.
He was described today by a neighbor as quiet and reserved.
"He has lived next door to me for eight years and I have never heard of his being in trouble," said James Murphy. "He used to ride trail bikes in my back yard."
Members of Hughes' family could not be reached for comment today.
Kings Dominion officials said today that they did not think there were too many people in the park on Friday, saying that sometimes they have as many as 25,000 in an evening. As they always do on Grad Night -- a tradition that began five years ago -- the park beefed up its security and hired Hanover County Sheriff's personnel to help out.
"You have 12,000 people in the park, teen-agers who want to let loose . . . ," said Edward Kuttman, a spokesman for the park. "Things were going so well. Kids just wanted to get on some rides and eat some pizza."
He said that he did not know of any other shooting ever occurring at Kings Dominion.