RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Seven people were shot, two fatally, when gunfire rang out Tuesday outside a downtown theater in Richmond, Virginia, where a high school graduation ceremony had just ended, causing hundreds of attendees to flee in panic, weep and clutch their children, authorities and witnesses said.
The two people killed in the shooting were 18-year-old Shawn Jackson and his father, 36-year-old Renzo Smith, according to a family representative.
According to court records, 19-year-old Amari Ty-Jon Pollard has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the incident. He will be held without bond until further proceedings. Pollard’s status hearing in court is scheduled for June 21.
Police said five other people were shot. A 14-year-old boy, a 32-year-old man, a 55-year-old man and a 58-year-old man all have non-life-threatening injuries. A 31-year-old has life-threatening gunshot injuries.
According to ABC News, Jackson’s nine-year-old sister was also hit by a car during the incident. She received treatment and has since been released from the hospital.
Several other people received injuries other than gunshot wounds. Two people were injured after falling while another nine people were treated for anxiety and minor injuries.
Two suspects were initially taken into custody, although police now believe that only Pollard was involved in the shooting. Police said Pollard is believed to have known at least one of the victims. Police said they are not looking for anyone else at this time.
Acting Police Chief Rick Edwards said there were officers inside the city-owned Altria Theater, which is across the street from a large, grassy park and in the middle of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus, when the officers heard gunfire from outside the building around 5:15 p.m. A witness told Nexstar’s WRIC they heard dozens of shots fired.
“As they heard the gunfire, it was obviously chaos,” Edwards said. “We had hundreds of people in Monroe Park, so people scattered. It was very chaotic at the scene.”
“This should’ve been a safe space. People should have felt safe at a graduation,” Edwards said. “It is tragic that someone decided to bring a gun and reign terror on our community.”
Four firearms were recovered at the scene, sources told WRIC.
Video captured by someone at the graduation shows the moments that gunshots were heard and a brief few seconds of the panic that ensued.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney vowed to ensure anyone responsible faces justice.
“This should not be happening anywhere,” Stoney said.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said the new graduates were outside taking photos with families and friends when the shooting broke out.
“I don’t have any more words on this,” Kamras said. “I’m just tired of seeing people get shot, our kids get shot. And I beg of the entire community to stop, to just stop.”
As he heard the gunshots and then sirens, neighbor John Willard, 69, stepped onto the balcony of his 18th-floor apartment. Below, he saw students fleeing in their graduation outfits and parents hugging children.
“There was one poor woman in front of the apartment block next to ours who was wailing and crying,” Willard said, adding that the scene left him deeply saddened.
Edythe Payne was helping her daughter sell flowers outside the theater to students as they left the ceremony. She told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the shooting caused a panic on nearby Main Street, which was packed with people at the time.
“I felt bad because some elderly people were at the graduation and they got knocked down to the ground,” Payne said.
The school district said a different graduation scheduled for later Tuesday had been canceled “out of an abundance of caution” and schools would be closed Wednesday.
The mass shooting, the latest in a nation increasingly accustomed to them, prompted calls for reform.
“The gun violence epidemic is a public health crisis that we must address,” U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat whose district includes Richmond, said in a statement. “We cannot continue to live in fear. We must address the root causes of gun violence and pass common sense gun safety policies that protect our communities.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, an ardent gun-rights advocate, said in remarks to news outlets near the scene that the problem lies not with guns but with criminals.
“We have to figure out what’s going on in our communities,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.