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1 dead, 2 injured in shooting after New Orleans high school graduation at Xavier University

A crime scene.
iStockphoto.com

One person was killed and another two were injured in the parking lot of Xavier University’s convocation center Tuesday following a New Orleans high school graduation ceremony, according to police.

Shots were fired shortly before noon when the parking lot was full of cap and gown-clad Morris Jeff Community School students and their families. The victim of the shooting, who died at a hospital, was a grandmother of one of the graduates, according to a report from WDSU.

NOPD deputy superintendent Christopher Goodly said during a press conference that the two injured, both men, were taken to the hospital by New Orleans EMS with non life-threatening injuries.

A fight between two women broke out in the parking lot shortly after the ceremony wrapped and just before multiple rounds rang out. Goodly confirmed the fight, but did not say whether either of the women involved in the altercation was the shooter.

Three people were taken in for questioning, but no arrests have been made, Goodly said. Investigators also confiscated more than one weapon.

“This unfortunate incident did not have to happen,” Goodly said, noting that both NOPD and Xavier’s police officers provided security inside and outside of the convocation center.

District superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a statement that he was “outraged and saddened” by the incident.

“The graduating seniors of Morris Jeff were there to share in their collective achievements and bask in the brightness of their futures – only to have their optimism ripped apart by gun violence,” Lewis said. “This has got to stop.”

Lewis urged New Orleanians and the county as a whole to address the damage caused by “access to guns” and to get to the “root of the anger and despair that compels individuals to even think of harming others.”

Morris Jeff Head of School Patricia Perkins said in a statement that the shooting had transformed a “day of celebration” into a “horrific tragedy,” but promised the community would unite to help each other heal.

“Our graduates will make a difference in this world because they learn to see each other as equal human beings. This resolve is only stronger after today’s violence,” Perkins said.

Morris Jeff Community School was scheduled to begin its graduation ceremony at the center at 10 a.m., according to a press release. Nearly 90 graduates were expected to attend and Mayor LaToya Cantrell was scheduled to speak.

Later Tuesday, Cantrell said in a statement that gun violence continues to “plague” the city.

New Orleans has seen a surge in violent crime since the start of the pandemic, a trend experienced by many major cities.

“We will remain laser-focused on leveraging local and federal partnerships to prioritize initiatives that address prevention strategies,” Cantrell said in a statement. “However, we also understand that there is a higher degree of personal responsibility that needs to be present in order to de-escalate these situations.”

Cantrell described gun violence as “a disease” and said the cure requires “a collaborative approach involving each of us coming together to make our streets safer.”

Xavier University’s convocation center hosts multiple high school graduation ceremonies each spring.

This is not the first graduation ceremony to turn violent this season. A large fight broke out inside Xavier University’s convocation center on May 20 shortly after students from G.W. Carver High School received their diplomas.

Video shows two groups of people punching, shoving and throwing chairs at one another.

No shots were fired, but police arrested 23-year-old Malik Washington at the scene with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon, illegally carrying a weapon, bringing a firearm to a school function and with violating the terms of his probation.

The NOPD distributed the images of three other male suspects in connection with the incident.

The day before, three people were shot and a fourth person was injured when gunfire broke out at a high school graduation on Southeastern Louisiana University’s campus.

Hammond High Magnet had just finished its ceremony and families were leaving the university’s activity center when shots rang out, according to reports.

Local police arrested Trent Thomas, 20, shortly after the shooting and said at the time that more arrests were possible.

Thomas is charged with three counts of attempted second-degree murder, obstruction of justice, aggravated damage to property and possession of a firearm on a gun-free campus.

Hammond police chief Edwin Bergeron told reporters that the shooting resulted from a possible gang-affiliated altercation between Thomas and a group of people, including an unidentified juvenile who used to attend the Hammond high school.

Bergeron said that the three people who were shot were “innocent bystanders” and that their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

Governor John Bel Edwards addressed both high school graduation shootings in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“We must do more to ensure that those who pose an unacceptable risk of harm to others aren’t able to acquire or keep firearms,” Edwards said, adding in light of recent gun violence in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, “gun safety discussions and action involving expanded background checks and red flag laws are very much in order.”

Louisiana has some of the least-restrictive gun laws in the nation, with only basic background checks and no red flag laws in place. Residents don't even need a permit for a firearm unless they want to carry a hidden gun on them, but legislators are attempting to make concealed carry permitless in the legislative session this year.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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