“The next steps will be to try to determine why, why did this happen?” Newport News Police Chief Steve R. Drew told reporters.
In an earlier news conference, Drew said a male student was shot in the side of the face and a female student was shot in the leg. He said their injuries were not considered life-threatening. Both are 17 years old.
Students were forced to shelter in place before evacuating, and at least two others were injured in the chaos and taken to the hospital, Drew said — one for a sprained or broken arm and the other for an asthma attack. A fifth student may have gone to the hospital independently.
Joe Baker, an attendance officer, said the shooting occurred as students were leaving lunch and heading back to class. When shots were fired, he said, students began rushing back to the cafeteria, and he helped escort them to safety. Drew said police were called shortly after 11:30 a.m.
Allandis Russ Jr., 15, was heading to his 10th-grade English class when he heard the bangs through the music coming from his ear buds. As others fell over while running for cover, the teen quietly slipped into a nearby classroom and sat down on the floor in a corner with the other students. Some cried and contemplated jumping out of the window. Allandis reached out to family to let them know he was safe.
“my school is getting shot up,” he texted his brother, Donique Hughes, 26, adding that he was safe in a classroom. “i could feel the shots in the air bro.”
Allandis reached his mother, Nicole Russ, at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Williamsburg, 35 minutes away. She hopped in the car and immediately began driving home. On the way, she phoned Hughes and asked him to go pick up his younger brother.
Russ remembers just one thought thrumming in her head for the entire half-hour drive: “I can’t lose another child.” Allandis had a twin sister who died at 4 months old.
Meanwhile, Hughes pulled up to the school and got his brother on the phone. They stayed on the line for the 45 minutes Allandis spent sheltering while police with drawn guns cleared the building.
Both staff and students are “traumatized,” Newport News Schools Superintendent George Parker III told reporters after the incident. “No one would want to go through these circumstances.”
He said students in Newport News train “regularly” for active shooter scenarios and that people entering school property are sometimes searched for weapons. Grief counselors were already on the scene to help them process the event, he said.
The Heritage High School shooting was one of at least eight school shootings in Virginia, Maryland or the District since 2018, according to a Post database that tracks gun violence during school hours on K-12 campuses. In those shootings, seven people were injured and one was killed.
The Newport News incident follows a surge of campus gun violence that made this spring unlike any other in modern U.S. history. Despite thousands of elementary, middle and high schools remaining partially, or entirely, closed because of the pandemic, there were 14 school shootings nationwide between March and June — the highest total over that period during any year since at least 1999.
While such shootings remain rare, the latest string has pushed the country past a bleak and uniquely American milestone: More than a quarter-million children have been exposed to gun violence during school hours since the massacre 22 years ago at Columbine High in Colorado.
Even when no one is killed in a school shooting, they can inflict lasting trauma on the hundreds of students who feared they might be shot to death in their classrooms and hallways. Children who endure the terror of lockdowns often weep and pray for mercy and text their parents goodbye notes.
The campus attacks come at a time of soaring gun violence nationwide. In 2020, bullets killed more than 43,000 Americans, and though that’s the highest total in decades, 2021 could be worse.
Allandis said he had just returned to almost normal schooling after more than a year of mostly remote education because of the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview Monday afternoon, just hours after the shooting, he said he no longer felt scared, just shocked and disappointed.
“We’ve been in school for like two weeks,” he said.
Eric Battle, the director of the local Boys and Girls Club, was among those who came to the scene to support the community. He said he was relieved that with shots fired in a school, the news was not worse.
“It’s been happening too much,” he said, adding that he would be talking with students he knows. “We want to make sure that we do all we can. We want to be proactive instead of reactive. How can we help the community?”
Tom Jackman and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.