Parents react to shooting near Pierce County school

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — For parents trying to pick up their children after a day of reported shootings and lockdowns at several schools, even getting to Graham-Kapowsin High School and its surrounding schools was a chore.

Key Developments
  • Two students injured in shooting outside Graham-Kapowsin High School in Graham.
  • Shooting happened off campus
  • The victims are students at the high school; they were taken to area hospitals.
  • The victims were in critical condition and are expected to survive.
  • Deputies say the shooting may be gang related.

From about 4:30 p.m. onward to the early evening, the entire intersection of 224 Street East and 108 Avenue East was gridlocked with traffic as local police and Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies directed traffic.

Doug Boyle, spokesperson for Bethel Schools, estimated that roughly 3,000 students were affected by the lockdowns. Reuniting them with their families was something the school district had prepared for.

Families who spoke to KIRO 7 were not mentally prepared for a school shooting that sent two students to the hospital.

Jonah Cilluy is a student at GKHS and was waiting to reunite with a family member.

“It's really crazy, honestly,” she said.

Peggy Jarrett said she had two children in two schools and early on, she had little information to go on.

“I'm really freaking out because I want to know about my son,” she said.

While Ashley Byrd admitted what many parents in Graham were thinking, the lockdown and incident put everyone in uncharted territory.

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“I've never been through something like this,” Byrd said.

Families huddled together on street corners or roadsides around GKHS after the shooting. The district says two students were shot after school had been dismissed.

Parents were clearly nervous outside, but inside the schools, Pierce County Sheriff’s Dept. spokesperson Ed Troyer praised the students and faculty for their work to secure themselves.

“We were able to get the schools secured. They went into a lockdown (and) everything went exactly as planned. We did a sweep of the school,” he said.

Authorities released students after searching room by room and doing sweeps through the schools.

Parents, in many instances, marched through darkened streets and roadways to get to their children. Heavy traffic forced many to simply park on roadsides a mile or more away.

Ashley Byrd admitted the traffic forced her to rethink how she would get her son.

“There's too big of a line and I didn't want to wait so I decided to go on the side of the line and park on the side so I could walk and get here,” she said. Byrd was able to get her son.

Alec Wooten described a scene where teachers kept things calm as tensions rose.

“We were just waiting, watching 'Boss Baby' if you know that movie? We were watching it in our class while the school was getting locked up.”

By 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the last students were released as the area was secured, according to Troyer.

"We made sure there are no other shooters there are no other victims which luckily -- thank gosh it turned out to be that way," said Troyer.

Troyer and a spokesperson for the Bethel schools said drills and practice ensured that reuniting families truly went right after the shooting. Alec Wooten was overjoyed to reunite with his mother Ashley Byrd.

“Yes, I was literally running down the halls.”

Byrd expressed sympathy for the two teens who were shot. “I was thinking the what-ifs. The what could be, what happened to the families it's…it's heartbreaking.”

The schools are having a delayed opening Wednesday but it has nothing to do with the incident Tuesday.

Counselors will be on hand Wednesday and there will be extra security.

The Bethel School District sent the following letter to all parents and others clarifying the day's events:

Dear Parents,

At approximately 2:30 p.m. today, 30 minutes after school was dismissed, there was a shooting near the Graham-Kapowsin High School campus.

The shooting stemmed from an altercation between a group of individuals outside of the school.
Two students who were injured in the shooting made their way onto the Graham-Kapowsin campus for help.

Graham-Kapowsin High School, Frontier Middle School, Graham Elementary School, and Nelson Elementary School were immediately placed in lockdown while Pierce County Deputies searched for the shooters.

As a precaution and a part of the investigation, deputies searched the entire campus as well as inside Graham-Kapowsin High School. 

At 3 p.m., Graham Elementary was taken off of lockdown and students were released according to normal end-of-the-day dismissal procedures.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department directed the district to remain in lockdown at Graham-Kapowsin High School, Frontier Middle School, and Nelson Elementary until they were able to secure the area.

Once the area was secured, and schools were taken out of lockdown by the sheriff's department, parents were allowed access to the three schools to pick up their students and buses were dispatched to take remaining students home.

School at all three sites will follow a normal schedule tomorrow, Wednesday, December 6.
Please remember that tomorrow is a scheduled late start in the district. 
Graham-Kapowsin High School will have extra security on hand tomorrow, as well as additional counselors. Students who left bags in classrooms will be allowed to collect them at the beginning of first period.

We wish to thank the Pierce County Sheriff's Department for their quick response and continued investigation of this very serious incident, and to parents for their patience. Our primary concern is always for the safety of our students and staff.