Three teenagers and an adult were injured in a shooting outside an afterschool program building near several schools on Monday afternoon, adding to children who suffered gunshot wounds in Memphis during another year of increased violence.
Students and families in the community described feeling overwhelmed by the violence, gathering in the evenings to share their experiences, pray for the community and the victims, and discuss changing the culture of a set of schools in which some do not not plan to return.
The shooting erupted after two people approached a car where someone was selling drugs, police said in an affidavit. Police have arrested a 19-year-old in connection with Tuesday’s shooting.
A witness told police he saw 19-year-old Erik Sandoval selling drugs from a car belonging to one of the victims. Two of the other victims of the shooting, a police officer identified as a teenager and the other who was identified as an adult, approached the car. An argument over a gun started. Several people then fired guns, police said.
Police found eight shell casings at the scene. Surveillance footage they reviewed showed the 19-year-old was one of the people shooting. He was charged with two counts of attempted second degree murder.
Two of the shooting victims were taken to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, while the third teenage victim drove to the intersection of Chelsea and Graham before being treated at Regional One Hospital, Memphis police reported.
One of the Bonheur victims suffered serious injuries, as did the Regional One victim. The second casualty at Le Bonheur had non-critical injuries. Hours after the initial report, a fourth adult victim with non-critical injuries was identified and treated at Baptist East, the Memphis Police Department reported.
The suspect or suspects fled in a dark-colored car, police said.
A person wearing what appeared to be a Multi-Agency Gang Unit brand shirt was at the scene at 5:05 p.m., as several students were seen leaving nearby buildings, some walking towards family members’ cars. The MGU is made up of Memphis police officers, Shelby County sheriff’s deputies, and federal officers from various agencies.
The K-9 unit also began entering the area around 5:05 p.m.
Students describe the community on the streets, shocked by the shootings
The shooting took place on North Graham Street, outside the Street Ministries, where children of all ages from nearby Kingsbury elementary, middle and high schools often congregate after school.
The group said they were “saddened” and wrote with their hearts “charged by the senseless shooting that occurred in the community of Graham Heights near” the center.
“Fortunately, all STREETS students were safe and sound at the time of the incident,” Eric Ballentine, the program’s executive director, said in a statement.
Counselors will be available at the center for students and staff once the doors reopen, Ballentine said, asking the community to join Streets in prayer.
Shelby County Schools confirmed a community incident near schools in Kingsbury, but did not add additional comments on Monday.
Accounts of the scene differ slightly, but in general the young witnesses described a shooting outside the street ministries which injured three children. Police confirmed that four people were injured.
At the scene, 12-year-old Alex Garcia described to a reporter what he believed to be a drive-by shooting involving a gunman in a black truck.
Alex was on the phone inside the building, in an area where students can play games.
After some gunshots, he saw a person fall to the ground and other children started running.
Alex said he nearly fell running through a back door. On his way, he saw a bullet ricochet.
A child was shot while holding a door to prevent a person with a gun, Alex described. But the alleged shooter fired bullets, hitting that student in the leg, he said.
A pupil from Kingsbury High School had walked outside Streets Ministries to call her mother before going to work.
What happened next was “a very bad coincidence”.
The high school student, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, saw the first shot and the apparent victim fall. This victim had just pulled up in front of the building and was outside with some friends.
She froze in shock and watched as more shots were fired until a guard pulled her inside the building.
She was nearly hit by a second shot, but a brick pillar was in the way.
The high school student spoke to a reporter from the neighborhood near the school. She showed The Commercial Appeal an email exchange with her science teacher, someone listed on the school’s website, to confirm her identity as a student.
Nearly half of secondary school students go to the street ministry after they are fired, and it eventually fills up with children of all ages, she said.
“I never imagined Streets would get into this type of conflict,” the student said. “Because Streets is a safe place for everyone to go and have fun and be themselves.”
Sometimes the kids fight, but nothing at the after-school place has ever been so serious, the student said.
She and other students with her said they could understand if adults and students reacted by closing Streets or not returning to Kingsbury.
Some parents meeting on Monday evening discussed withdrawing their students from school. Among these students is Andrea Rahmow, 12, a seventh-grade student in middle school. She was in the Streets Ministries break room when she heard three gunshots, a sound she recognizes, but not in a school setting, like Streets.
“It made me feel a little stressed and overwhelmed,” she said, describing how close her friends were to the gunfire near the entrance, where she told her story on Monday night.
The interactions between her classmates were “very chaotic,” Andrea said. The fights have been regular recently, she said, despite suspensions and expulsions of some children who participate, she said.
Adults need to know that students are afraid for their safety, Andrea said. She wants the community to know more about what is going on.
“A lot of students don’t really tell their parents what’s going on,” Andrea said, “because they don’t want them to worry too much.”
Hispanic community prays for change after shooting
Around 7:30 p.m., about three dozen people gathered outside Streets Ministries to share testimonies of the day and pray. As the group held lit candles, one person offered a prayer in English and one in Spanish for the predominantly Hispanic community of people gathered outside.
Karina Salcedo, mother of two middle school students and a primary school student, said it was not the first time violence had hit the school recently.
“We need a lot of protection. We have to stop the violence in schools,” said Salcedo, 36.
“We bring our children to learn good things, not to kill children,” she said in tears on Monday afternoon. She offered similar testimony on Monday night.
Families need prompt and frequent communication from school administration, parents said Monday, expressing concern for their students’ safety.
“We have young children here who are dying,” Amanda Hernandez, a mother of a middle schooler, said Monday evening. “It’s a mother’s fear. It’s my biggest fear, getting a phone call saying my son is gone. Or my daughter. It just has to stop.”
She plans to pull her son out of school on Tuesday, describing Monday’s shooting as the “last straw”.
Most recent incident in series of historically high numbers of child victims of gunshot wounds
Brian Tillman observed the scene just after 5 p.m. This is something the 901 BLOC Squad Violence Response Worker has been doing more recently in their mission to reduce gun violence among youth.
Tillman strives to step in after incidents, bringing people together to talk, in hopes of keeping an incident isolated. If the shooting involved gangs, for example, Tillman’s group works to keep it from generating more violence.
A big part of this work is building relationships with the community and with young people.
“Sometimes (young people) will start to trust you,” Tillman said, “and they’ll call you and tell you when a situation like this is about to happen, and you can step in and you can do some prevention rather than intervention.”
By early October, more than 100 children had been treated for gunshot wounds at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, an increase from previous years, though somewhat similar to 2020 reports, according to hospital data. .
Research by the hospital found that around 70% of gunshot wounds in recent years were due to community violence.
Most injuries are not fatal, but can leave victims with mental and physical health effects.
Althea Greene, a member of the area school board, said by phone Monday night that she was saddened to hear about youth violence again. Less than a month earlier, an SCS student was shot dead inside his school. Greene pointed to another fatal shooting of a teenager over the weekend.
“If this was ever a time, now is the time for us to speak up, but also to take a stand against gun violence,” Greene said of Memphis and its communities. “It’s what we wake up to every day, it’s what we hear on the news every night. When is enough?”