A 25-year-old man entered Frederick Douglass High School shortly after noon and shot a hall monitor, police said. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)
Gunfire erupted Friday in the lobby of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, a rare incident inside city schools, leaving a 56-year-old staff member seriously injured and a 25-year-old man in police custody.
Neil Davis entered the school shortly after noon and shot a special education assistant, police said. The staff member, identified by district officials as Michael Marks, was in serious but stable condition Saturday and undergoing treatment at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The alleged shooter is a family member of a Douglass student, police said.
No students were injured during the incident.
“In a city where violence is too present, our schools must be havens of safety and peace, where confrontation and weapons have no place,” schools CEO Sonja Santelises said. “I can tell you that both our officers and our injured staff member did everything to ensure the safety of our students.”
After entering the school through its front entrance, Davis was quickly confronted by Marks, who was originally identified by officials as a hall monitor. Davis then shot Marks in the lower torso, police said. The incident was isolated to the school’s lobby, though some students heard the shots ring out.
Students at Excel Academy in West Baltimore haven’t experienced a school shooting, but have lost seven schoolmates to street gun violence in the last year and a half, and can share stories going back decades about the outsize role guns have played in their lives and the impact it has had on them.
Amira Toms, a 17-year-old junior, said she was practicing drills with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps when her instructor ran into the room and told students someone was shooting outside.
”It was scary. I never had this happen to me before,” Toms said. “I seen it happen to a lot of places, but I never thought it would be our school.”
Freshman Keiron Slay, 14, said he was in a hallway of the school when the shooting happened. “That’s when I heard a lot of screaming,” he said.
When he and a friend went up a set of stairs to investigate the commotion, he said they saw a group of people running toward them. He ran too, and ducked into a nearby classroom, where he said some students attempted to climb out a window.
Students said the school was on lockdown for about an hour.
The Baltimore Sun Media Group is investigating how area schools handle security. We sent 18 reporters and several photographers to schools around the Baltimore area — reporting at three representative schools in all the districts in and around Baltimore. Here's what we learned.
Douglass boys varsity basketball coach Tyree Bizzelle said Marks is a former assistant coach for the school who also served as an assistant coach on the 1996-97 Southwestern High School basketball team that went undefeated and won a state title.
“He hasn’t coached the last couple of years, but he’s very knowledgeable about certain sports, so he always gives input to the kids around school,” Bizzelle said. “Some of the kids feel like they can come talk to him after a game or before a game to get a good pep talk.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh issued a statement Friday evening on her Twitter account calling the incident “totally unacceptable” and saying that “police investigators are working to determine not only the circumstances which led to this incident but how a person with a gun was allowed to enter the school.
“Our schools need to be safe havens where our children can learn and achieve the potential,” she said in the statement. “We will be conducting a full assessment to determine how best to prevent this type of incident from happening again.”
Davis was charged with attempted murder and firearm violations. He was also charged in connection with a November 2018 fatal shooting.
“We predicted that this would happen, that an outsider would come into a school and produce a handgun and shoot a staff member or student,” Boatwright said. “I wonder how that 10-0 vote feels now?”
On Friday, the police officer assigned to Douglass was unarmed as usual, Boatwright said. But the officer happened to be joined by two other officers — his area supervisors — who were carrying their weapons and attending a conference.
“They heard the gunshots and the three of them ran to the location and physically fought the suspect in order to get the gun from him and take him into custody,” Boatwright said. “It was just by chance, thankfully, that these supervisors were there. If they weren’t, there would have been no good guy with the tools available to stop the threat.”
District spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said no officer pulled out his firearm during the encounter.
School board chair Cheryl Cascianisaid she would not comment until she had a more complete picture of what happened Friday.
Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English was finishing up in a meeting of the School Safety Task Force when she heard the news. She immediately rushed to Douglass.
“It’s ironic,” English said. “It’s just so unfortunate that this happened, anywhere, anyplace, anytime.”
Slay said he was hoping to be transferred to another school before Friday’s shooting.
“I’m not coming to school until I get transferred,” Slay said.
Santelises pledged a review of safety and security protocols at Douglass and all schools.
“My highest priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff members,” she said, “and I and my leadership team will take all possible steps to ensure that our schools are the safe havens they need to be.”