MATTHEWS, N.C. - The Matthews Police Department said it will have an increased presence at all schools in the town after the deadly shooting at Butler High School Monday.
Butler High School students return to class Thursday.
“It is important for Butler parents, students and staff to know that we are using all available means to ensure their safety. We also want the Butler community to know we are grieving with you, and we will do our part to ensure a smooth transition back into school and allow you to continue with the healing process,” Matthews Police Chief Clark Pennington said.
Police said the gun a student used to kill a fellow classmate during a fight in a crowded school hallway was stolen out of Gaston County.
Officers said the gun was stolen from a vehicle, but they're still working to determine how the teenager came into possession of the weapon, according to an affidavit.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent called the incident a case of bullying that "escalated out of control" that had students scurrying to escape and parents rushing to campus to check on their children.
The student accused of firing the fatal shot was arrested quickly as investigators secured the campus at Butler High School in Matthews.
Matthews Police Department Capt. Stason Tyrrell identified the suspect at a news conference as Jatwan Craig Cuffie, a 16-year-old ninth-grader. He is charged as an adult with first-degree murder and is being held in the Mecklenburg County jail.
Police said Cuffie shot and killed Bobby McKeithen, 16, a 10th-grader at Butler.
Rick Winiker is a defense attorney who used to be a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"It's a challenging case,” Winiker said. “We have not had a real rash of these kinds of incidents."
Winiker took a close look at the affidavit on the part of Matthews police, which details part of a statement from Cuffie that lays out what he says happened.
Cuffie said he got into a fight Friday and McKeithen was not involved, but he was there.
Cuffie told police at one point, "one of the other male subjects pulled out a knife."
Cuffie said he and his friend ran away.
If it can be proven a knife was used, Cuffie possibly has a self-defense argument, Winiker said.
"It puts the issue in play, definitely," Winiker said.
The teens argued over who won a fight between the two of them over the weekend.
They talked about meeting again for another fight.
Cuffie told police he was not interested, according to the affidavit.
Cuffie said he continued to get texts that the other teens wanted to fight him Monday at school. Before class that morning, Cuffie said he went to the woods to get his gun for protection.
The fact that he apparently had a gun at all could be a problem for his defense, Winiker said.
Cuffie told police even though he didn’t fight McKeithen in the initial fight, McKeithen walked up to him and punched him in the face in the hallway.
Cuffie said he grabbed the gun from his pocket and fired one shot, killing McKeithen.
Cuffie, the ninth-grade student charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the death of Bobby McKeithen, 16, appeared in shackles in Mecklenburg County District Court Tuesday.
Joel Adelman, a public defender, told the judge Cuffie had never been in any kind of trouble before.
“At number one, you can see he has no prior convictions, misdemeanors or felonies,” Adelman said.
Cuffie’s parents were in the courtroom and left without commenting, but Adelman said there’s reason to believe he had been bullied before the shooting.
“I think it's already out there that there were threats to him and that there was an issue of bullying,” Adelman said.
Cuffie said nothing when the judge asked him if he had any words.
Adelman asked Strickland to set Cuffie's bond at $10,000 and place him in his mother's custody at their home, saying Cuffie poses no threat to the community. Adelman also proposed the teen be placed under electric monitoring.
The judge said the issue of the bond would be addressed at a hearing scheduled Nov. 7.
Tuesday's hearing lasted about 10 minutes and Currie then was returned to jail, where he is being held without bond. Moments later, his family left the Mecklenburg County Courthouse without speaking to reporters.
"He's their son. He's their baby, he's 16 years old," Adelman said of the family. "And it's difficult for them, as it would be for any parent."
Police said preliminary autopsy results show McKeithen died from a single gunshot wound to the torso.
Students remained inside with the school on lockdown for about two hours after the shooting.
According to Tyrrell, a school resource officer was in the school cafeteria at 7:14 a.m. when he and security officers heard a commotion and encountered students running in an adjacent hallway. Tyrrell said the resource officer encountered the victim, tried to give aid and called for a school lockdown.
Within five minutes, a teacher notified school officials that she was with the student who committed the shooting, Tyrrell said, adding that the teacher said the student admitted to the shooting and was ready to surrender.
>> We had live continuing coverage of the chaos on campus. You can watch live updates on your Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said the shooting appears to have stemmed from a case of bullying "that escalated out of control." Neither Wilcox nor Tyrrell said which student was being bullied.
"First reports indicate that the conflict began with bullying that escalated out of control," Wilcox said. "And as fear took over, a young person brought a gun to solve the problems."
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Tyrrell said several people apparently knew there would be an altercation at the school, but police had no information on it prior to the incident.
"We’re incredibly saddened that we had a loss of life on one of our campuses today. What makes it doubly difficult is that it was one of our students who was the shooter," Wilcox said. "First of all, our hearts go out to the larger community and to all of the young people who witnessed this tragedy today."
Students told Channel 9 that panic set in when they heard the gunshot.
“Teacher was like, ‘Get in the classroom! Get in the classroom!’ So, first thing I did was I went in the classroom,” student Nate Marshall said.
Marshall and his classmates found the safest place they could.
“Was in a little closet, and everybody’s crying in the closet talking about, ‘Dude got shot.’”
Police said a school resource officer was nearby and was able to reach the victim within 15 to 20 seconds after the shooting.
They said the officer immediately followed protocol to place the school on lockdown and inform other law enforcement.
“Our school resource officer called in that there was a shot fired in the school and that he had a victim of a gunshot wound,” Tyrell said.
Police said within five to seven minutes of the shooting, a teacher informed officials that she was with the suspected shooter in a classroom.
Officers said Cuffie was taken into custody, and the weapon was also seized by law enforcement.
Police said they don’t believe anyone else was involved.
“We were able to get the victim out of the school, and he was transported by MEDIC to Carolinas Healthcare uptown. And we can announce that he has succumbed to that wound. He has passed on,” Tyrell said.
Officers said the fight and, presumably, the shooting were captured on surveillance video.
"Someone asked me how could someone, especially a student, come onto one of our campuses with a loaded gun, and I wish I had an answer to that," Wilcox said. "There really is no easy answer. We do not have metal detectors in our schools. We do not search our students on the way into school. Our schools and students rely on cooperation between and among each other. And today, that simply wasn't enough."
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While police have not confirmed what kind of gun was used, Wilcox said, "I don't know how a young person gets a handgun in the state of North Carolina."
He said the system was reviewing its security procedures.
Wilcox said that many students witnessed the shooting, and counselors and psychologists were available.
"There were many kids in the hallway when this happened," he said.
Arrest affidavit details possible motive behind shooting
While the superintendent pointed to bullying, an arrest affidavit obtained by Channel 9 points to a fight between teenagers.
The affidavit was written by an officer who took Cuffie's statement after he was taken into custody.
Cuffie told the officer this all started with a fight between several boys in the parking lot of the Harris Teeter near Margaret Wallace Road and Idlewild Road and a taunting text message that followed.
Cuffie said he went to get a gun he had hidden in the woods for protection Monday morning before he went to school.
Cuffie told the officer McKeithen punched him in the face in the hallway, so he pulled his gun and shot him.
He said he ran to a classroom and told his math teacher that he didn’t want to do it. Cuffie said he told his teacher the gun was in his book bag, and police arrived a shot time after.
Frustrated and scared, parents march to school to reunite with children
Families were initially told to meet at Elevation Church on East Independence Boulevard immediately following the shooting.
But parents desperate for answers started marching from the church to campus just before 9 a.m.
“We will march back with our children. I would encourage Matthews police to provide us safety as we cross this major highway. Here we go,” one parent said.
They crossed busy Independence Boulevard toward the school, demanding to be reunited with their children.
The families were met by officers who initially prevented them from getting too close to the scene.
Chopper 9 Skyzoom was overhead as families stormed the campus and made their way toward the building.
The district said the lockdown was lifted around 9:15 a.m. and parents were able to pick up their children at the entrance of the school.
Students embraced parents and loved ones after they were released from school.
Channel 9 saw many of them in tears, relieved to be reconnected but grieving for the student who was killed.
One teenager told Channel 9 he witnessed the shooting. He said he watched as the argument between students got physical.
“As he was walking away, he was shot in the back,” Jorge Sanchez said. “I just processed everything, what’s going on, and I saw the gun and I had to run.”
"This is really sad to see someone go that ... has been your friend, for I don't know how many years," Sanchez said.
CMS said families were alerted about the shooting in a phone call and will continue be updated about the situation that way.
Butler High School closed Tuesday
CMS said classes proceeded on campus Monday for students who remained at the school.
"Our decision to keep students in class was motivated by one goal and that's to keep our students safe until transportation could be arranged with their families," Wilcox said at a news conference. "What would they have said to us if they had come to school and we couldn't locate their children? I think their fear would have been magnified."
Games and athletic practices were canceled.
Classes will also be canceled at Butler High School Tuesday, and there is a scheduled teacher workday Wednesday. Students will return to campus Thursday.
A CMS spokesperson released the following statement after the shooting.
"Our hearts are with the family, loved ones, friends and everyone affected by the tragedy which occurred this morning at Butler High School. Counseling is available to any student or staff who wishes to speak to someone. The Butler High School community and CMS appreciates the support of the entire community during this difficult time. CMS will provide updates throughout today, as warranted.
Gov. Roy Cooper released the following statement.
"I am heartbroken to hear about today's school violence that has taken the life of a high school student in Matthews, and my family is praying for this community. I have been in touch with local officials to offer condolences and state support as needed. As we get more information it is critical that we come together to do everything in our power to prevent these incidents from happening and keep guns out of our schools."
State Superintendent Mark Johnson also released the below statement.
"I am heartbroken to hear that we have lost a student to school violence in one of our schools. We have contacted Charlotte-Mecklenburg authorities and will assist in any way we can, but of course our first thoughts are for the parents and other loved ones of the student who passed away. The safety of our students is paramount. This is a sad day for all of North Carolina, and we must work together as a community to address these problems."
The New York Times obtained a statement from the McKeithen family, which said, in part: “As parents, we never expect to send our children to school and they not return home. The pain that we are experiencing is a pain that no mother or no father should ever have to experience.”
A school and community mourns
Hundreds of students attended a prayer vigil Monday night in front of Butler High School.
Students gathered in solidarity by lighting candles and releasing balloons.
“My head isn’t really wrapped around it yet. I just still can’t believe he’s gone. We were really close,” said junior Laila Ghniem, who knew McKeithen.
She said she texted him minutes before the shooting.
“I told him, ‘I missed him,’ and he said ‘It’s OK. I’ll see you this morning. I miss you too,’ and then I never got to see him,” she said.
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