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Community reeling in the wake of shooting at Magruder High

by Judith Hruz
Emotions remain high following the shooting of a 15-year-old student at Col. Zadok Magruder High School on Jan. 21, a shooting that came allegedly at the hands of a fellow student at the Derwood school.
County Council President Gabe Albornoz (D-At large) called the incident — the first active shooting in the history of Montgomery County schools — “tragic and awful.”
In the days surrounding the shooting at Magruder, a Northwest High School senior was found dead in a Germantown neighborhood on Jan. 24. Police say he was murdered.
The same day, three firefighters, including Baltimore City firefighter/paramedic Kenneth “Kenny” Lacayo, were killed in a fire in a vacant house in Baltimore. Lacayo was a graduate of Wheaton High School and a long-time volunteer with the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad.
“I don’t think I have to tell this has been a really difficult week for Montgomery County,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during his Jan. 26 press briefing.
Elrich said the incidents, added to the nearly two years of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, have been disturbing.
“There are moments when it seems society is coming apart at the seams,” he said.
The 17-year-old Magruder student charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection to the shooting in a school bathroom purchased the so-called ghost gun in three parts that were sent to his home, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said during a press conference at police headquarters Jan. 24.
Jones and other county leaders said it is not the first ghost gun found in a Montgomery County public school, but it is the first shooting in a county school.
State’s Attorney John McCarthy said five ghost guns have been recovered from county schools this academic year. Seventy were confiscated in the community at-large last year.
“I’m concerned because this is not the first ghost gun that’s been seized from a minor or a child in Montgomery County,” he said outside a Montgomery County Courthouse after a bond hearing Jan. 24.
“Guns have no place in our schools,” McCarthy said. “Guns will not be tolerated. There will be profound consequences to anyone who brings a gun into our schools.”
The state’s attorney added that the day before the incident at Magruder, he made a statement to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh about the increasing problem with children and ghost guns. “Kids can buy them, kids can make them and kids can use them,” he said.
Albornoz said he supports legislation proposed in the Maryland General Assembly to crack down on ghost guns.
He issued the following statement on his own behalf:
“Tackling the proliferation of ghost guns requires a sustained and forceful partnership among all levels of government. Ghost gun recoveries across the U.S. are on the rise, and Montgomery County is no exception.”
He added: “Counties across the state need action on this critical issue now. This bill must be enacted during this year’s legislative session in Annapolis, and I will do all I can to build on what we have done at the local level to crack down on ghost guns.”
Other weapons also have been found this academic year.
A 17-year-old student was arrested after county police say he was found in possession of a firearm at Wheaton High School on Jan. 11.
Dr. Monifa McKnight, interim superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), said the shooting at Magruder is “not just a school problem, but a community problem.”
The teenager charged in the shooting, Steven Alston Jr., was denied bail Jan. 24 in District Court.
Alston Jr., who is being charged as an adult, also has been charged with first-degree assault, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony/violent crime, possession of a dangerous weapon on school property and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Alston Jr., an 11th-grade student, was located inside a classroom and taken into custody shortly after 3 p.m. Jan. 21, about two hours after the school went into lockdown.
A privately manufactured firearm, or ghost gun, was found — in three parts — with Alston, Jones said during the Monday afternoon press conference.
Jones said the shooting occurred in the bathroom and was part of an “ongoing dispute between the victim and the shooter.”
Other students witnessed the incident, Jones said, but had no other information to report during Elrich’s Jan. 26 media briefing.
There was no evidence to suggest that anyone else within the school was targeted, police said.
The victim, a 10th-grade Magruder student, is in an area hospital and remained in critical condition at press time, police said.
Parents of Magruder students, as well as students at other high schools around the county, have expressed their concern over the incident. Some have called for a return to School Resource Officers (SRO’s) inside of schools at all times.
SRO’s, which are sworn officers, had been stationed inside of all county public high schools but were removed this school year in favor of Community Engagement Officers (CEO’s), who are assigned to a school cluster but do not spend all day inside any one school.
The Magruder Cluster CEO arrived at the high school in seven minutes after receiving the call, officials said.
Elrich said there is no evidence that a police officer inside of Magruder would have presented the shooting, but he, the County Council, school officials and police are committed to revisiting the issue.
“We are deeply shaken by the events at Magruder: the shooting and circumstances which put students in danger, the presence and arrest of the suspect in a secured classroom, the unbelievable judgement of some students to tweet about the event and not immediately call 911,” said Magruder parents Jeffrey and Allison Reznick. “While we were in touch with our daughter via text, and knew she was with classmates who could support each other through the event, the wait to reunite with her home was worrying every minute and full of anxiety. We expect and support not only the comprehensive and cooperative investigation of these disturbing events, but also real and meaningful accountability and change in MCPS policies, procedures, oversight and counseling for students, as well as increased and permanent mental health resources in this school and every other one in the district.”

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