A Mount Tabor High School student died Wednesday after he was shot at school, and a suspect believed to be a student was later taken into custody, after the afternoon shooting drew a massive law enforcement response to the northwestern Winston-Salem school and neighborhoods nearby.
The victim was identified as William Chavis Raynard Miller Jr., who was given emergency medical treatment at the school and taken to Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, authorities said. Miller died at the hospital while being treated for his wounds, police said. His age hasn’t been released.
The shooting took place shortly after noon, but it was not until 6 p.m. that authorities announced that another Mount Tabor student had been taken into custody. In the meantime, there were hours of stress and tension as parents and students waited to be reunited in a process that dragged out through the afternoon and had parents picking up their children at designated places.
Other schools were locked down too as a precaution, with parents nervously waiting in line to pick up their kids.
Mount Tabor High School will be closed Thursday. Counselors and the district crisis team will be available at an offsite location that is being communicated to parents and students. The school has an enrollment of some 1,400 students.
The name of the suspect was not released. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office reported that the suspect was taken into custody without incident by the U.S. Marshals Carolinas Regional Fugitive Task Force.
Parents, do not respond to Mt. Tabor High School. We will post pick up locations as soon as possible.— cityofwspolice (@cityofwspolice) September 1, 2021
During a Wednesday afternoon news conference, authorities were mum about the details of the shooting. They gave the time as 12:07 p.m. and said Mount Tabor High School went into immediate lockdown. Authorities did not say where it was in the school that the shooting took place, nor reveal any details, if they know any, about the circumstances leading up to the shooting.
A woman by the name of Frantazia Hines told a Journal reporter shortly after the shooting that while she was on the phone with her sister, who is a student at Mount Tabor, she could hear over the phone the sound of multiple gunshots being fired at the school.
A freshman at Mount Tabor, Tye Davis Witherspoon, 15, said he saw a student with a gun just before the shooting.
“I mentally prepared myself for it, and I ran,” Witherspoon said, while waiting with his mother at a pickup site to be reunited with his brother, who is also a Mount Tabor student.
With sirens wailing and emergency lights flashing, large numbers of law enforcement officers converged on the high school on Petree Road, blocking streets and starting a search for the suspect, who at that time was still at large. Police fielded multiple reports called in by people who reported seeing people acting suspiciously and traced down each one.
Tammy Moore was among a group of parents gathered at Polo and Petree Roads.
“This is crazy. I’m just trying to find my baby,” Moore said.
She spoke to her grandson, Elonza Day, and he told her that he got pushed into a locker room when the shooting started. He was unharmed.
Her daughter recently moved from Philadelphia because she thought Winston-Salem would be safer, “and then this happened.”
Shashua Patterson spoke with her ninth-grader, Nabria Varner, who was nearby the scene where gunfire broke out. Patterson said her daughter was headed toward the gym and started running as soon she heard gunshots. She took shelter in the girl’s locker room and was unharmed.
Nasiah McKinney, a junior at Mount Tabor, said she was in her vehicle that stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of Polo and Petree roads when the shooting occurred. She said was scared and her fellow students were scared, too.
“This is very sad, sickening, crazy and stupid,” McKinney said as she stood in the parking lot of Whitaker Square shopping center. Parents had gathered there as they awaited news about their children who attend Mount Tabor.
Tricia McManus, the superintendent of schools for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said the school and its people have the support of the entire district.
“First, I want to extend my sympathy and prayers to the family of our deceased student, and to all students, staff, and parents at Mount Tabor, who have had to endure the unthinkable today,” McManus said.
The superintendent acknowledged how hard it was for parents and students during the lockdowns.
“I know how awful it must have been to be separated from your children during this incident, and I am sure that you held your children tighter when they arrived home this afternoon,” she said. McManus praised the “bravery and quick thinking” of the school staff as they responded to the shooting, and said law enforcement officers did not hesitate in their response.
The mood was somber at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office when local authorities held a news conference shortly before the announcement came that a suspect was in custody.
Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough talked about the pain the family of the slain student was experiencing, and how this affects the community at large:
“I met with his family … I talked with his mother,” Kimbrough said, mentioning his encounter with Shannon Clark, Miller’s mother. “I felt the pain, the tears of the mother, and so my concern was to console her, and my concern was to let her know that she had the full support of this entire community, all of us, all of us. Because if she is hurting, we are hurting. All of us have children, most of us anyway. So I can assure you that while I am sad, I am also mad as hell.”
Kimbrough and Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson did most of the speaking during the news conference, but revealed only a few details. They emphasized the need to give comfort to Miller’s family and students, and voiced determination to follow through on the investigation.
Both of the county’s top law enforcement officers said people should avoid trading rumors on social media, and took pains to dispel the rumor that more than one student had been shot.
“That is not true,” Thompson said. “We had one student shot today. We had some students who did suffer what I would call a traumatic incident as a result of this situation — one being a seizure. Another student fell out. So we had a couple of these incidents where that occurred where we had to provide medical assistance.”
The magnitude of the shooting in Winston-Salem drew a response from Gov. Roy Cooper, who will be in Winston-Salem Thursday for an 11 a.m. news conference that is closed to everyone except the media.
“For the second time this week, we have seen a shooting in a North Carolina school,” Cooper said in his Wednesday statement. “Our prayers are with the victims, their families and all the students of Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem. I have been briefed by law enforcement and the Department of Public Safety is ready to provide any support necessary. We must work to ensure the safety of students and educators, quickly apprehend the shooter and keep guns off school grounds.”
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said during the 4:30 news conference at the sheriff’s office that it was a sad day not only for the schools here:
“It is a sad day for the city of Winston-Salem and the county of Forsyth, as we experienced something we see on TV across the country, but we have been so fortunate here we have not experienced that,” Joines said. “But today we are facing it head-on with the death of a student from Mount Tabor High School.”
District Attorney Jim O’Neill said that as a father of children who attend public schools, the shooting came as a “punch in your stomach,” and talked about the anguish parents feel until they find out whether their children are safe.
“When you think about the danger that was present at Mount Tabor this afternoon, and I was getting calls from folks who had children that were in Mount Tabor High School, and they were hiding under the desks in fear and not knowing what is going on … there is really no worse feeling you can imagine,” O’Neill said, praising the effort of law enforcement officers who responded to the crisis.
“My office takes a zero-tolerance policy as it relates to violence being committed at our schools,” he said.
Reynolds High School was put under lockdown around 2 p.m. when concerns circulated on social media that the shooter was heading to that school.
Parents were lined up in front of the school, only to find that the school was locked down, that their children were inside in the classroom, and that they couldn’t pick up their kids until police could give the all clear.
Police were stationed around the school, but nothing appeared amiss. Still, parents were worried.
Jessica Perez said her daughter Elaina, who is a freshman, was texting her from inside the classroom. She said they were told to be quiet and not make any noise.
“She said that some kids were crying and wanting their parents, but they are not letting anyone leave,” Jessica Perez said.
Some parents were visibly angry as they stood outside Reynolds High School. One parent was heard shouting she wanted her child out of the school.
It was the first school shooting in Forsyth County since Aug. 30, 2013 at Carver High School, when a student named Antwain Deshaun Porter, who was 15 at the time, was shot and taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries that were not life-threatening.
Christopher Lamont Richardson, who was 18 at the time, later pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm on school property, discharging a firearm within city limits and discharging a firearm on school property. He was sentenced to two years to three years and two months in prison. He also received a suspended sentence and was placed on supervised probation for three years.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, D-6th, released a statement Wednesday calling the shooting “a horrific reminder of the gun violence epidemic that is sweeping our communities.” Manning called for “immediate action to keep students and educators safe” from gun violence.
Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Hairston called the shooting “another senseless act of gun violence” and said her office “stands ready to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and bring justice for this victim and his family.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. said he was “deeply saddened” to hear that a student had died. Burr commended law enforcement officers and first responders for their quick response.
During Wednesday’s press conference, both Kimbrough and Thompson both punctuated their speech with long pauses at times while they struggled with their emotions.
“I don’t know the grief of losing a child, I don’t,” Kimbrough told reporters, speaking of his meeting with Miller’s mother. “I can tell you what I saw and I can tell you what I felt. What she said to me was, ‘Kimbrough, my baby.’ And … On the way down here I called her, because I wasn’t going to say his name. As most of you know, my first responsibility is to the family in times like this. And she said, ‘Say his name,’ and that is why I said his full name.”
Thompson said her department’s priority is the safety of the children.
“We have a mother and a family who will not be able to hug their child tonight,” she said.
Lisa O’Donnell, Walt Unks and Allison Isley contributed to this story
“We have a mother and a family who will not be able to hug their child tonight.” Catrina Thompson, Winston-Salem police chief