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2 dead, several injured in shooting at a high school graduation in Virginia

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Richmond, Va., something that's happening all too often - a joyous event in this case, a high school graduation - abruptly turning to terror when a shooter opened fire. Seven people were shot. At least two have died, including a student who had just graduated. Jahd Khalil of VPM News has this report.

JAHD KHALIL, BYLINE: Tuesday afternoon, seniors from Huguenot High School walked across a stage to get their diplomas. They then headed outside to a park across the street to celebrate with family and friends. That's when the gunfire began.

RICK EDWARDS: Obviously, this should have been a safe space. People should have felt safe at a graduation.

KHALIL: Interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards described the chaotic scene. He said hundreds of people started running in every direction as the shots continued over and over again. Some were injured as they fled, including a 9-year-old girl who was hit by a car.

EDWARDS: And it's just incredibly tragic that someone decided to bring a gun to this incident and reign terror on our community.

KHALIL: A 19-year-old man was arrested carrying four handguns. Edwards says the suspect knew one of the victims. Families and students hunkered down in nearby buildings for hours. School administrators didn't even take off their graduation robes, including Superintendent Jason Kamras, who spoke to reporters afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON KAMRAS: I'm tired of seeing people get shot, our kids get shot. And I beg of the entire community to stop, to just stop. Our kids can't take it. Our teachers can't take it. Our families can't take it anymore.

KHALIL: Kamras was emotional and appeared to be holding back tears. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney seemed to be too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEVAR STONEY: The question that comes in my mind right now is, is nothing sacred any longer?

KHALIL: 2021 saw 90 homicides in Richmond, a 15-year high. The number of youth killed by firearms in the Virginia capital was recently three times the national rate, according to Mayor Stoney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STONEY: This should not be happening anywhere, whether it's in Richmond, whether it's in Virginia, whether it's in the United States. This should not be happening anywhere.

KHALIL: Richmond closed its schools on Wednesday and postponed the rest of the week's high school graduations.

For NPR News, I'm Jahd Khalil in Richmond, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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