One day after five teenagers were shot, one fatally, near Philadelphia’s Roxborough High School, parents who dropped their children off at the school Wednesday morning expressed shock as well as frustration.
Several parents who spoke to Chalkbeat outside the school said school officials should have canceled classes the day after the incident. And one parent criticized the outreach, or lack thereof, she received from the district.
The teenagers were shot at roughly 4:40 p.m. on Pechin Street, a short walk from Roxborough High. The shooting took place shortly after a football scrimmage that involved Roxborough’s junior varsity team. Four of the five victims — all between the ages of 14 to 17 — were identified as members of the team, according to Philadelphia police.
One member of the football team was shot in the chest and died shortly afterwards at Albert Einstein Medical Center. Police identified him as Nicholas Elizalde, 14. Although Elizalde was a member of Roxborough’s football team, he attended Walter B. Saul High School, a magnet school focused on agriculture, according to district spokesperson Christina Clark.
The police did not offer updates about the condition of the other four teenagers.
Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Vanore said during a Wednesday press conference that surveillance video, which captured several people emerging from a Ford Explorer and shooting at the students, led police to believe that the attack was targeted. But he said police were still trying to determine who the target was.
More than 60 ammunition casings were found at the scene by police.
The tension outside the school Wednesday boiled over at one point, when Buddy Reignor, the parent of a freshman at Roxborough, confronted City Councilman Curtis Jones in front of the school about the lack of security in the school’s vicinity when the shooting occurred.
Reignor told Jones — who represents the area around Roxborough — that if there had been a police presence in the area, the shooting would not have occurred. He also said that Roxborough should not have held classes Wednesday.
“I’m a parent of a ninth grade student who is afraid to go to school today,” Reignor said.
An outcry from Roxborough High parents
Philadelphia’s problems with gun violence are longstanding. But in the last few years, its traumatic effects on the city’s students have intensified. The number of homicides in Philadelphia hit an all-time high last year, and gun violence is the leading cause of death for children over age 15 in the city.
From 2019 through August of this year, 176 teenagers died from gun violence in the city.
On Tuesday, the school district announced that it would send a crisis response team to Roxborough to support students and staff in the aftermath of the shooting.
After dropping off her daughter at Roxborough High Wednesday morning, Veda Brown said she thought there should have been “a day to deal with grief” at the school, and that district officials should meet to discuss how to support students’ mental health needs in the wake of the incident. Brown said Roxborough should have canceled classes Wednesday.
“My child has special needs, so her anxiety is at 10 today,” Brown said.
Superintendent Tony Watlington said the last 24 hours have been devastating to the school district.
“It is absolutely unimaginable that a group of students participating in a wholesome activity would be fired upon as they walked in the scope of high school,” he said.
Mayor Jim Kenney offered his condolences to the families of the students who were shot, as well as “the entire Philadelphia school community.” But not all the parents outside Roxborough on Wednesday were feeling magnanimous towards Kenney, whose approach to gun violence following a July shooting in the city has been under intense scrutiny.
“Our kids are not safe, and we do not have the direction of a mayor who cares about gun violence,” said Roxborough parent Angela Griffin, after dropping her daughter off across the street from the school. “It’s just beyond reprehensible.”
Griffin added that the school should have canceled classes Wednesday, and she criticized the district for not leaving a voicemail about the incident when it contacted her.
A district spokesperson, Marissa Orbanek, said Wednesday that parents at the school who are signed up with the district’s parent portal received multiple notifications from the district about the incident.
Not every Roxborough parent wanted classes shut down.
“We need to do as much as we can to help the teachers. Yes, they should have had school today. We are already behind,” Aaron Stephens said. “They should revolve the day around what had happened and touch the kids that can be reached right now.”
Parent Tasha Green said that the area around Roxborough High was “a good neighborhood” and that the shooting had scared everyone.
“No, I don’t believe they should have school today,” Green said. “You never know if the shooters are going to come back.”
Bureau Chief Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s education coverage. Contact Johann at firstname.lastname@example.org.