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Fear At 3 CMS High Schools After CMPD Connects Them To Shootings

Gwendolyn Glenn
Hopewell High School was one of three schools CMPD said had a connection to recent shootings.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police continue to look for suspects in the shooting of 3-year-old Asiah Figueroa, who was killed early Sept. 7. They say they still believe at least some of them to be teenagers with some connection to three CMS high schools: North Mecklenburg, Hopewell and Chambers.

Many students stayed home last week out of fear after CMPD connected their schools to the shooting.

CMPD Capt. Joel McNelly named those three high schools last Wednesday for a reason.

“Parents of kids at these high schools, what we need from you is we need you to be as outraged as we are about this,” McNelly said. “This is where your kids go to school. These are the people that your kids are around and we need your help.”

A CMPD lieutenant says a lot of people, including parents, have shared information with the department.

But the announcement had another effect, too.

“It was all over my Instagram — the stories and everything. Then, I got several text messages telling me don’t go to school tomorrow and this was Wednesday night. It was traumatizing,” said North Mecklenburg sophomore Callie Murphy. I was like, ‘I have to go to school because I have two projects due, but I don’t want to get shot.’”

Her mom, Kate Murphy, thought it through. Police hadn’t said much beyond that North Meck, Hopewell and Chambers had some connection to a series of shootings early that week, including those that killed Figueroa and 16-year-old Jaylen Foster. Several arrests have been made in the killings so far.

“I was like, ‘I have to go to school because I have two projects due, but I don’t want to get shot.’”
Callie Murphy, North Mecklenburg High student

“It just didn’t seem like enough of a threat that I should keep my kid home,” Kate Murphy said. “But I definitely know that for my 15-year-old daughter, that was hard for her to put it in that kind of context. I told her, ‘If I didn’t think the school was able to keep you safe, I wouldn’t send you, but I do.’”

So she dropped Callie off at school and then got a robocall from CMS saying the district was aware of the rumors that were going around on social media and that schools were taking extra precautions to keep students safe.

North Meck junior T.J. Hardy found out about it when he arrived at school.

The news was set up early in the morning and there were a lot of police there," Hardy said. "So I kind of heard our school got into some stuff.”

North Meck, Hopewell, Chambers and West Mecklenburg high schools were under modified lockdowns. Teachers kept classroom doors locked and blinds down, and students were told to walk with a buddy through the halls. There were very few students at school.

“On Thursday, nobody was there," Hardy said. "It was only, like, 10 or less people in each class. Everybody went home.”

Many parents came to pick up their students early. It was the same at Hopewell and Chambers. Still, Hardy wasn’t too worried.

It’s always going to be a little bit of gang members, gang stuff going on," Hardy said. "But it’s like if you’re not really into that, you won’t really be involved. If you just stay out of the way, you’ll be pretty much safe.”

Around noon that day, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston held a news conference. He said the district was aware of threats on social media against the schools but that officials had no evidence that any of them were credible.

“We ask that you speak to your children, that’s important," Winston said. "We know there are rumors and threats that are swirling, and it can be frightening. I’m a parent myself, I get it. Every situation is different, so please be patient while staff is evaluating every specific situation."

A week later, most students at the three high schools are back in class. The schools are no longer on a modified lockdown. CMPD has announced two arrests inFigueroa's death. They men who were charged are 21. . But the department says detectives are still looking for teenagers and they still believe there’s some connection to the three high schools, but won’t say more than that.

Kate Murphy is still having a hard time understanding why CMPD decided to name her daughter’s school.

I don’t understand how sending kids to school with that level of uncertainty and fear and chaos helps with public safety," Kate Murphy said. "I don’t understand that. And I worry about the way that kids carry the stigma of that.”

“Last week was rough. A lot of anxiety and there’s not a lot we can say,” said school board member Rhonda Cheek.

She heard from a lot of scared and frustrated parents and students. Hopewell and North Meck are in her district.

Cheek said the original plan was that CMPD would hold a joint news conference with CMS, but the police department went ahead and held its own.

“I don’t want to play the blame game,” Cheek said. “We need to move forward from what happened last week and learn that things that happened that shouldn’t have from the way things were handled, probably wasn’t the best thing for kids and staff.”

Cheek said the 14-year-old charged in the shooting death of Foster, the 16-year-old, on Sept. 5 was enrolled in CMS — just like Foster.

“I have since learned that neither of them have actually attended during this 2021-22 school year," Cheek said. "So, yes, they are on the books as students in our district.”

She said she believes they were enrolled at North Mecklenburg and Hopewell.

It’s understandable why CMPD named the schools, said school security consultant Ken Trump of Cleveland. But he thinks CMPD made a mistake going alone with the announcement.

Having the police come forward naming names may actually be necessary from their public safety perspective to create a way to prevent a further escalation," Trump said.. "Where they need to have plans in place though is so that those communications don’t create unintended consequences.”

That includes rumors, and lots of frustration, fear and anxiety.

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.