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2 dead in shooting after high school graduation ceremony in Virginia capital

By SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press
Published: June 6, 2023, 5:23pm

RICHMOND, Va.  — Two people were killed in a shooting after a high school graduation ceremony in Virginia’s capital, police said.

Police also said a 19-year-old who was in custody will be charged with two counts of second-degree murder. A total of seven people were wounded in the shooting.

The city’s chief said the two who died were both male, ages 18 and 36. Their names were not released, but police believe the suspect knew at least one of the victims.

Police recovered multiple handguns.

Seven people were shot, and three of them were left with life-threatening wounds, when gunfire rang out Tuesday outside a downtown theater where a high school graduation ceremony had recently concluded, causing attendees to flee in panic, weep and clutch their children, authorities and witnesses reported.

Two suspects were arrested after the shooting near Virginia Commonwealth University, Interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards said at a news conference. At least 12 others were injured or treated for anxiety due to the mayhem.

Officers inside the theater heard gunfire around 5:15 p.m. and radioed to police stationed outside, who found multiple victims, Edwards said.

Police did not believe there was any ongoing threat to the community. The identities of those in custody and those injured were not immediately released.

“We’re going to do everything we can to bring the individuals who were involved in this to justice. … This should not be happening anywhere,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at the news conference.

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Richmond Public Schools said in a message on its website that the shooting took place in Monroe Park, which is across the street from the theater and adjacent to the college campus, after a graduation ceremony for Huguenot High School.

School board member Jonathan Young told Richmond TV station WWBT that graduates and other attendees were exiting the theater when they heard about 20 gunshots in rapid succession.

“That prompted, as you would expect, hundreds of persons in an effort to flee the gunfire to return to the building,” Young said.

“It materialized in a stampede,” he said.

According to police spokeswoman Tracy Walker, two people were treated for falls; one juvenile was struck by a car and sustained injuries that were not life-threatening; and 9 people were treated at the scene for minor injuries or anxiety.

As he heard the gunshots and then sirens, neighbor John Willard, 69, stepped onto the balcony of his 18th-floor apartment to see what was happening below. He saw students fleeing in their graduation outfits and parents hugging children.

“There was one poor woman in front of the apartment block next to ours who was wailing and crying,” Willard said, adding that the scene left him deeply saddened.

Edythe Payne was helping her daughter sell flowers outside the theater to students as they left the ceremony. She told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the shooting caused a panic on nearby Main Street, which was packed with people at the time.

“I felt bad because some elderly people were at the graduation and they got knocked down to the ground,” Payne said.

The school district said a different graduation scheduled for later Tuesday had been canceled “out of an abundance of caution” and schools would be closed Wednesday.

Associated Press journalists Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed to this report.

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