Richmond Public Schools in Virginia canceled school Wednesday and postponed upcoming graduation ceremonies following a shooting Tuesday evening that left one newly graduated student and his stepfather dead.
The shooting took place minutes after Huguenot High School’s graduation in a public park outside the Virginia Commonwealth University building where the ceremony took place, raising concerns for graduation ceremonies taking place this month in that city and across the nation.
Jason Kamras, the superintendent in Richmond, said he will continue to be present and try to do “everything [h]e possibly can” for district families touched by the violence.
He had a different message for the nation: change.
“Stop the flood of guns, increase the mental health support, increase the funding for health care, education, and housing,” Kamras said. “We have so many families that are hurting, that are just hanging on by a thread. When you put that together with an ocean of firearms, time and time again, we end up with situations like this.”
There have been a handful of other incidents of gun violence at graduation ceremonies. At Lenoir City High School in Tennessee last month, a man died in an accidental shooting following the school’s graduation ceremony, and several instances occurred last year in Indiana, Michigan, Arkansas, and Louisiana, which resulted in a total of three deaths.
So far this school year, there have been 24 school shootings that injured or killed people, according to Education Week’s school shooting tracker. That count does not include the Richmond shooting or other incidents that took place at off-campus graduation venues because they occurred on property not owned or operated by a K-12 school or district.
Graduation supposed to be ‘joyful’
Ray Hart, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said via email the council continues to work to mitigate the loss of life due to gun violence, but there is a limit to what educators can do.
“This incident shows that our country and community need a collective response to this issue and that all members of our community need to work together,” Hart said.
Kamras said families in Richmond are devastated.
“Graduation’s supposed to be a joyful time where everybody celebrates achievement … and lots of smiles and selfies with your family,” Kamras said. “All that turned into a crime scene.”
He noted that this isn’t the first instance of gun violence in the school district this year. There were two other incidents, one in October and one in April. He also said since his start as superintendent in February 2018, he has lost “dozens” of students to shootings in the greater community.
“Every time this happens, it’s retraumatizing for our kids, our families, our teachers, everybody,” Kamras said.
Kamras expressed frustration with the situation, especially since the school system made efforts to increase safety at the event. He said police officers were already present prior to the shooting and the district hired additional security for the ceremony.
“I think we kept everybody safe inside,” Kamras said. “But once you go outside, once you’re at the public park, I’m not sure what we can do. … That’s why I say it goes beyond schools. This is about gun laws, mental health.”
The four other high schools in the district were scheduled to have their graduation ceremony at the VCU campus. Kamras said the ceremonies will now take place on each school’s campus sometime next week.
Kamras also said the district is planning to host something for the graduated seniors of Huguenot High, but there are no details yet.
Lydia McFarlane, Newsroom Intern contributed to this article.