CMS superintendent says recent violence, shootings involving students ‘has to stop’

CHARLOTTE — In the aftermath of Tuesday night’s drive-by shooting in northwest Charlotte that left a 3-year-old boy dead -- and police saying they believe the crime was connected to several other shootings, including one earlier this week that killed a 16-year-old -- parents have been messaging Channel 9, worried about their students in school.

They are particularly concerned about threats they say are circulating online and on social media.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as Huntersville police, told Channel 9 they’ve stepped up their patrols and officer presence at several high schools through the end of the week.

CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston held a news conference Thursday addressing the recent violence.

“We are aware of threats on social media against our schools. We have no evidence that any of them are credible,” he said.

Investigators said 3-year-old Asiah Fiquero was shot and killed while he slept in his bed after two cars pulled up in front of his house just before midnight and several shooters fired at least 150 rounds at the home.

Detectives said the suspects in that shooting, as well as several other recent shootings, are likely high school students with connections to Hopewell, North Mecklenburg and Julius L. Chambers (formerly Vance) high schools.

“One of the things that brings us here today is that there is a 3-year-old child who our staff will not have the chance to teach,” Winston said at the conference. “I’m here enlisting the support of the community to help stop this violence. It has to stop.”

Investigators believe the shootings escalated from “simple disputes” at school to deadly gunfire.

“What I’m here to tell you today is that all of these cases have some relation to Hopewell High School,” said CMPD Captain Joel McNelly on Wednesday. “And there’s also, we believe, some connections to North Mecklenburg High School and Chambers, formerly Vance High School, as well. And we believe that these tragic events stemmed from some simple disputes -- what started out as teenage dispute games has turned into a deadly game that’s now taken two lives.”

Winston said CMS is working collaboratively with local law enforcement and others in the community to prevent further violence. He also said schools have reestablished random searches and staff is urging students with information to step up.

“If you know something, if you hear something, please say something to authorities,” Winston said. “At our schools, I think you know that we have reinstituted random safety screenings. And so we believe that is a mitigating measure that we will take, we will continue to see that will prove to be helpful. We are also asking all students, all staff, all families, to please be vigilant, and be on alert, and say something if you hear something.”

The outrage has also prompted local leaders, like Winston, to call for help.

“My staff has been in contact with leaders of organizations such as Alternatives to Violence that will help intervene with at-risk students. Staff has also spoken with leaders of the NAACP,” he said.

Rev. Corine Mack is the NAACP president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch and said she reached out to the district several weeks ago with concerns.

“Interestingly enough, we had a press conference the day before the shooting, and we were talking about the very same things we’re talking about now,” Mack said. “There were several fights on the first and second day. But prior to that, I was already concerned with the beef that I was seeing on social media ... and I wanted an intervention.”

One of the programs she’s suggesting is called Circles of Care. Among the focal points, there’s an emphasis on history, conflict resolution and financial literacy.

“Because a lot of this stems from lack, we know we are 50th in the country for Black upward mobility, which means there are a lot of folks who are not faring well. And unfortunately, the likelihood is they will never, ever get an opportunity to come out of their situation,” Mack said.

She hopes to bring in local partners who are in the community now, naming groups like Take Back Our Hoods and concepts like, restorative justice.

“We can’t have small pockets of people doing the work and expect this to change,” she said.

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said four high schools were placed on a modified lockdown Thursday as a precaution, issuing the following statement:

“The district takes the safety and security of our schools, students and staff seriously. We are aware of threats involving Julius L. Chambers, North Mecklenburg, West Mecklenburg and Hopewell high schools. Law enforcement is actively investigating and will have an increased presence on these campuses through the end of this week. The schools are continuing with learning as scheduled, and as a precaution are on a modified lockdown.”

According to CMS, a modified lockdown “is initiated when there may be a danger outside of the buildings or off campus. Students and staff are moved (or remain) in classrooms and perimeter doors remain locked, including the front office. Classroom instruction continues as normal, and necessary movement can occur within a building.”

CMS confirmed that random safety screenings were completed on Thursday at Independence High School, West Mecklenburg High School and Hopewell High School. No guns were found, according to the district.

The district also released the following security rules for games on Friday night:

  1. No elementary or middle school student will be allowed to enter the stadium without a parent or guardian.
  2. All students and children must sit in the bleachers/stands; do not allow them to walk around during game time except for going to the restroom or concession stand.
  3. Place additional security/police in the parking lot after the game.
  4. There will be increased police/campus security associates presence at the football games.

Several CMS parents told Channel 9 that they were keeping their students home on Thursday because of safety concerns at the schools.

“We know that there are rumors and threats that are swirling, and it can be frightening,” Winston said. “I’m a parent myself, I get it. Every situation is different. So please be patient while staff is evaluating every specific situation. And while we know that parents are in communication with their child, please understand that the information that they receive from social media and their friends may not always be accurate.”

When asked whether the district had seen a decrease in attendance since the threats were posted online, Winston said he couldn’t give specific numbers, but said that some principals reported students leaving school early.

One Hopewell mother said she felt OK about sending her son to class because of the increased police presence and security checks.

“The police is there, they’ve been checking everybody since yesterday and this will happen again today to make sure nothing happens,” said Johanna Bravo. “That made me feel like he’s in a safe place, even though this is all going on.”

Another Hopewell parent, Keith Jett, told Channel 9 he would like for there to be extra security measures inside schools.

“I would like them to go through scanners,” Jett said. “I mean, I know it sounds crazy but some schools are doing it, to a certain extent. They pick and choose different days, but I think they should do it every day.”

Alexandria Boyd’s daughter is a junior at North Mecklenburg High School. She said they texted back and forth all day on Thursday.

“I’m terrified -- especially what’s been going on lately,” Boyd said.

McNelly said on Wednesday that it was unclear if the shootings were gang-related but that the possibility was being investigated. The captain went on to implore parents of students at those high schools to ask their kids what they may know.

“I’m going to speak directly to you, parents of kids at these high schools. What we need from you is we need you to be as outraged as we are about this,” McNelly said. “This is where your kids go to school. These are the people that your kids are around, and we need your help. We need you to talk to your children. You should know whether or not your children were at home the last few nights. If your children were not at home the last few nights, we need to know that. We also need you to talk to your children and find out what is going on at their school. Kids know things because they talk to each other. We need you, whether you think your kids were involved or not, we need you to talk to your kids about what’s going on. Ask them what they know about fights or disputes or other things going on at school. We need you to look through their stuff -- you’re their parents, you can do that. Look through their rooms. Look through their phones. Look through their social media accounts and find out what you can find out.”

Winston echoed police in saying that parents need to have conversations with their children about the recent violence. He also asked that they trust the district to keep students safe.

“The point I want to make is, please trust your school administrators who will make the best decisions to keep your child safe,” he said. “And they will communicate accurate information when they have that.”

Police have not made any arrests in Tuesday night’s drive-by shooting. They’re asking parents to be extra vigilant and to speak with their students about what they may know. CMPD also released two home security videos that captured footage of the shooters opening fire on the house Tuesday night.

Timeline of connected crimes:

  • Sunday, September 5 - Homicide on Trinity Road. A 16-year-old was killed and two other teenagers were shot.
  • Tuesday, September 7 - Just after midnight, a home in the 5300 block of Kiev Drive was shot into. No one was injured.
  • Tuesday, September 7 - About an hour later, another house was shot into in the 11300 block of Joe Morrison Lane. No one was injured.
  • Tuesday, September 7 - About 24 hours later, just before midnight, two houses in the 5300 block of Kiev Drive were shot into. No one was injured.
  • Tuesday, September 7 - At 11:45 p.m., More than 150 rounds were fired into a home on Richard Rozelle Drive, killing 3-year-old Asiah Fiquero.
Police laid out a clearer picture of the recent shootings they believe are connected to high school students.

“We continue to monitor and evaluate messages on social media including ones that involve school safety in our jurisdiction,” CMPD said in a statement. “Our school resource officers are our link between CMPD and our school community. We are aware of some messages on social media regarding recent shootings and homicides that have happened in our community. We continue to assess the situation, work with our SROs and will allocate our resources as necessary to facilitate a safe learning environment for students in our jurisdiction.”

Anyone with information about the shooting should call 704-432-TIPS and speak directly to a Homicide Unit detective. You can also leave information anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.

(WATCH BELOW: CMPD: High school students tied to drive-by shooting that killed sleeping toddler)