Friday, September 29, 2023
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Suspect in Virginia high school graduation shooting appears in court

The 19-year-old faced a Richmond judge for his arraignment on second-degree murder charges, with more counts expected to be filed.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Richmond city prosecutors formally charged a 19-year-old with second-degree murder on Wednesday, a day after a mass shooting outside a high school graduation ceremony left two dead and seven injured.

"Yesterday, our city was devastated by a horrific, traumatic and senseless act of gun violence," Mayor Levar Stoney said at a Wednesday morning press conference. "A day that should have been a moment of joy and celebration with friends and family was taken away in seconds, and lives changed forever."

The shooting occurred on Virginia Commonwealth University's campus in Monroe Park outside of the Altria Theater, which was the site of the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony. The deceased include 18-year-old Shawn Jackson and his 36-year-old stepfather Renzo Smith.

Jackson had graduated just moments before the shooting occurred.

"Those who did know Shawn described him as bubbly and the life of the party," Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said. "Getting to the graduation stage was not easy for Shawn, nonetheless, he did it."

Henrico County resident Amari Pollard, 19, was arraigned in Richmond City District Court on Wednesday morning on two counts of second-degree murder with further charges pending, according to acting Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards.

"The individual who committed this senseless and cowardly act must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Stoney said.

Edwards said Pollard and Jackson had an ongoing dispute for over a year. Pollard attended the graduation before getting into a heated exchange with Smith before retrieving a handgun from his car and opening fire, according to the police chief.

Three off-duty police officers working as security inside the theater and seven officers outside assisting with traffic control responded to the sound of gunshots at 5:13 p.m., according to Edwards.

Seven people suffered gunshot wounds. A 31-year-old was downgraded from life-threatening condition to a non-life-threatening condition overnight. Edwards confirmed that four other males, ages 14, 42, 55 and 58, were injured but are expected to be OK. A vehicle struck a 9-year-old female relative of the deceased and she suffered minor injuries.

Edwards told the press that investigators have yet to find evidence of the shooting being gang-related.

"There is no information that we have that they are gang members," the police chief said at Wednesday's press conference. "We believe that the two individuals, Shawn Jackson and Amari Pollard, knew each other."

Edwards said that police spoke with the family members of the victims at the hospital on Tuesday to prevent retaliation.

After initially attempting to flee on foot, Pollard surrendered peacefully to the police, according to Edwards. The FBI and Richmond Police Department have created a website for witnesses to send videos from the shooting.

Richmond schools closed Wednesday and the district pushed the remaining graduation ceremonies to next week.

"Our city will not be defined by this violence," Stoney said. "We will heal, we will recover and this will not break us."

Categories / Criminal, Education, Regional

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