May 6, 2009 — Police are holding three persons of interest they believe were involved in an afternoon shootout on St. Thomas that put one elementary school student in the hospital Wednesday after a stray bullet pierced the back window of the school bus he was on.
The victim, a 10-year-old student at E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary School, is in stable condition and being treated at the Schneider Regional Medical Center for a bullet wound to the shoulder. As of about 7:30 p.m., no one had been arrested, but police said they are offering a $5,000 reward for any information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of one or more suspects.
A shootout between two vehicles — whose occupants started firing at one another near the Anna's Retreat campus — appears to be the cause of the incident, according to an initial police investigation. The shooting occurred around 3 p.m. Wednesday, just a little after students had been dismissed for the day and were about to head home on the bus, which was still parked in the school yard when the bullet came in through the back window.
Police have also taken custody of a vehicle believed to have been involved in the shootout, according to Police Department press release.
Along with interviewing witnesses in the area, police stayed behind to secure the campus and talk to students and parents.
"I met with the young man's mother, the principal of the school, the students and counselors," Police Commissioner James McCall said Wednesday evening. "It's too soon to determine what type of impact this is going to have on the students, but at the time, they appeared to be holding up quite well. We also had counselors on scene, along with the department's witness advocate to help out."
McCall said police had to talk to students about whether it was still safe for them to continue riding the school bus.
"This is insanity what's going on," McCall said. "We would like to see a strong message to these criminals who clearly continue to have no regard for human life in this community, and if we can do that by prosecuting the individuals involved in this incident both locally and federally, then we will do that."
According to federal statute, possession of a firearm within 1,000 yards of a school zone can carry a 10-year jail sentence, he said. A local conviction could add on at least another five, McCall said.
In a statement released Wednesday, Gov. John deJongh Jr. urged residents with information on the shooting to contact police as soon as possible.
"Fortunately, the young boy was not seriously injured, but that was thanks to the grace of God, not the reckless and criminal behavior of those ignorant people who find that they can only express themselves through violence," the governor said. "The prayers of our community are not only for the speedy recovery of this innocent child, but for the recovery by our community of that commitment to peaceful existence and good order that all persons of goodwill must work ever harder to achieve."
Residents with information on the shooting can call the Police Department's Criminal Investigation Bureau at 715-5522 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
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