RICHMOND, Va. — Seven people were shot -- and two of them have died -- after gunfire rang out near Virginia Commonwealth University in downtown Richmond following a high school graduation ceremony Tuesday, according to police and school district officials.
NBC12 is reporting that the two people killed were a Huguenot HS graduate and his father.
Two suspects were taken into custody after the incident, Interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards said at a news conference. It was later reported that one of them, who was held because they were in possession of a firearm, was subsequently cleared of having any involvement.
They currently have a 19-year-old man in custody and he will be charged with 2 counts of Second Degree Murder. Police recovered multiple handguns.
Police said they believe the suspect knew at least one of the victims.
Of the five other people who were shot, a 31-year-old man is in critical condition, and four others, ages 14, 32, 55, and 58 - all males - are being treated for "non-life threatening" wounds.
Officers inside Altria Theater, where the graduation took place, heard gunfire outside around 5:15 p.m. and radioed to police stationed outside, who found multiple victims, Edwards said.
Police did not believe there was any ongoing threat to the community. The identities of those in custody and those injured were not immediately released.
"We're going to do everything we can to bring the individuals involved in this to justice," Mayor Levar Stoney said at the news conference. "This should not be happening anywhere."
In addition to the seven wounded by gunfire, at least 12 others were injured or treated for anxiety due to the mayhem, according to police.
Police said one was a 9-year-old child had been hit by a car while trying to flee, but the child is expected to be OK.
“My administration continues monitoring the terrible shooting in the heart of Richmond tonight,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said on Twitter. “State law enforcement are fully supporting the Richmond Police Department as this investigation moves forward.”
Richmond Public Schools said in a message on its website that the shooting took place in Monroe Park, which is near the college campus, after a graduation ceremony for Huguenot High School.
School board member Jonathan Young told NBC12 that graduates and other attendees were exiting the theater when they heard about 20 gunshots in rapid succession.
“That prompted, as you would expect, hundreds of persons in an effort to flee the gunfire to return to the building,” Young said. “It materialized in a stampede.”
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 that schools would be closed Wednesday.
The Richmond branch of the NAACP issues this statement regarding the shooting:
Our condolences go out to all the families in the past and recent homicides in the RVA region. We are praying for all victims affected by this plague of violence and praying for a speedy recovery of the surviving victims and their families.