In wake of shooting, 'another normal day' at Central

In wake of shooting, 'another normal day' at Central

On the first day of classes following Friday night's shooting outside Central High School, Unit 4 board members met in closed session to discuss "emergency security procedures," police continued to ask the public for help, and extra officers were on hand when students arrived Monday morning.

But "they left fairly quickly when it appeared it was going to be another normal day" at Central, said Superintendent Susan Zola, who reported Monday's attendance as "excellent," adding "the kids kind of went about their regular studies."

Other than a Danville-Central girls' basketball game scheduled for tonight in Champaign being called off — "as a precaution," Danville Superintendent Alicia Geddis said — there were few signs of the chaos three days earlier, when three people were wounded by gunfire after a tense boys' basketball game between Danville and Central at Combes Gym.

What's known about the scare that sent hundreds scurrying:

— A bullet hit the window of a first-floor classroom on the southeast corner of Central, where cheerleaders had stored their backpacks during the game, Zola said. She wasn't sure if anyone was in the room at the time.

"There could have been a few cheerleaders in there picking up their bags," she said.

The window was repaired Saturday morning, at a cost of $300, Zola said.

— No arrests have been made, and Champaign police had nothing new to report other than that they're "still looking for people to come forward with information," spokeswoman LaEisha Meadards said. It's CPD's case, but Danville police are assisting in the investigation in any way they can, said Larry Thomason, that city's public safety director.

— Police have said a potential fight between spectators may have sparked the gunfire, which scattered spectators, left a bullet hole in a Central student's parked car and sent three females to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. All three — a 15-year-old Danville student, a 17-year-old from Champaign and an 18-year-old Parkland College student — were treated and released.

'It can happen anywhere'

Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel, whose daughter is a Central student, happened to sit on the Danville side during Friday's game and said, "I did not see anything I would think could possibly lead to what happened afterwards."

Some fans, including many parents, left right after the game, but students and others mingled in the gym or nearby Seely Hall, he said. Weibel went down to the floor of the gym to ask one of the scorekeepers about a technical foul called during the game, then headed to Seely to meet his daughter. He heard an announcement that students had 11 minutes to leave the building.

"About two minutes later, all of a sudden, they stopped letting people out of the building," he said.

He figured something had happened outside, but thought it was probably a car accident. Then, "rumors went around that there were shots fired."

As more rumors flew, those remaining inside the building grew apprehensive, he said.

"People were concerned about what was happening outside," Weibel said.

Some people came in during the lockdown, and some people tried to sneak out, Weibel said.

After the lockdown ended, Weibel walked to the southeast corner of the building to look at the window hit by a bullet. Amid the police cars and ambulances outside, he spotted a young female sitting on the curb being comforted by others. While she didn't appear to be injured, she had "obviously been frightened," he said.

Weibel then walked to his car on the west side of the building and left.

While concerned by the shooting, Weibel said he wouldn't hesitate to go to another game.

"Unfortunately, things like thi s happen. There's so many guns, so many people have them. It can happen anywhere," he said.

'They said we can't leave'

Danville players were still in the visiting locker room when the team was told to stay put.

"They said we can't leave. There's been a shooting outside of the school," recalled DHS senior Phillip Hall, the team's manager. "It was shocking. "We heard that a (fellow student) had been shot in the arm, and she came back inside the school. It was very traumatic for some people."

Hall described the game as "very heated," adding, "It seemed almost hostile. It all stems from a longtime rivalry between Danville and Champaign, whether it's Central or Centennial."

John Staab, a teacher and coach who keeps the book at Central home games, parks his truck near where the shots were fired. He was in the gym rounding up his son and some of his son's buddies, when he saw people running toward Seely Hall. He asked a nearby administrator with a walkie talkie what was going on and the initial report was that someone threw rocks at Room 101.

When he stepped outside, Staab saw "a lot of chaos, kids running here and there. Then I saw a young lady sitting by my pickup truck ... bleeding quite a bit from the head. A police officer was applying pressure."

Police were quick to arrive, with more than a dozen vehicles swarming the corner of University and Lynn.

Nearby, Staab saw another young woman who'd been hit in the arm and was "pretty hysterical." He said emergency personnel were trying to calm her and get her into the ambulance.

"So, it was kind of crazy," he said, lauding for the job that Principal Joe Williams and other Central administrators did amid the chaos. "They had their hands full with kids running in and out, and all the panic going on."

'A community conversation'

On Monday, the head of the Champaign PTA Council spoke of possibly coordinating a public town-hall-style meeting early next year on gun violence.

President Sheri Williamson said she hopes to have someone with Champaign police at their Dec. 19 council meeting to address parent concerns and answer questions. She said parents initially would like to know if this incident was school-related or if it just happened near Central.

Zola reassured parents that Unit 4 schools are safe.

"The reality is, in a broader sense, that we do have violence that unfolds in our community. In this particular situation, it unfolded near one of our schools. We have to put that in a broader context around a community conversation," which is already under way through C-U Fresh Start and other venues, she said.

"I think it goes beyond a specific campus," she said.

Zola had returned home after attending a Catholic holy day mass Friday evening when she got the call about the shooting and possible injuries from Deputy Superintendent Laura Taylor. She arrived at Central a few minutes after 10 and was at the scene until about 1 a.m.

As it turned out, none of the three people injured were Central students, Zola said.

Zola, who is calm by nature, said administrators have had to prepare for shooting scenarios, given other incidents across the country, and they are trained to be steady in a crisis.

"That's what people appreciate," she said — someone who can lay out what should be done in the next 30 minutes, the next hour, the next day, and on Monday morning.

"For the most part, I think our district is very well-prepared," she said. "There are always extra details that will help us move our work forward if we unfortunately have to deal with this situation again."

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rsp wrote on December 12, 2017 at 8:12 am

On Monday, the head of the Champaign PTA Council spoke of possibly coordinating a public town-hall-style meeting early next year on gun violence.

It might be better to open it up and talk about trauma. It affects more people in more ways and if they don't understand it they are more likely to react instead of act.