Jan 19, 2024 - News

Report finds RPS officials knew of threats to Huguenot student before shooting

A picture of flowers laid down in front of Altria Theater after the June graduation shooting.

Flowers left outside of the Altria Theater after the June shooting. Photo: Parker Michels-Boyce/Washington Post via Getty Images

The mother of a Huguenot High School student fatally shot after his graduation repeatedly warned RPS officials that people were trying to kill him, according to a new report into last year's mass shooting.

The big picture: Whether the shooting could have been prevented wasn't part of this investigation, but thousands of pages of emails, documents and nearly 30 interview transcripts revealed three main issues in the district's safety protocols:

  • RPS staff members were aware of threats against 18-year-old Shawn Jackson but did not report them to administrators or law enforcement.
  • Jackson was a homebound student because his mother, Tameeka Jackson-Smith, feared for his safety and mental health, and per RPS policy, wasn't supposed to be at any school-sponsored events.
  • It's unclear whether the metal detectors were functioning properly and if all graduates and attendees went through them.

Between the lines: The 32-page report conducted by a third-party law firm likely wouldn't have been released if the Times-Dispatch and CBS6 hadn't sued the school board for it and won.

  • The board received the report in November, four months after the mass shooting outside of the Altria Theater killed Jackson and his 36-year-old stepfather, Renzo Smith, and wounded an additional five people via gunfire.
  • The alleged shooter's trial begins on Feb. 26.

What they're saying: "The public can now fully comprehend where the district has failed," school board member Kenya Gibson, who voted to release the findings, told the Times-Dispatch. "We can't allow this to continue."

RPS officials said they're taking the following steps to "further safeguard" students and staff:

  • Updating policies on who can authorize students to participate in graduation.
  • Revising security protocols for all student events, including graduation.
  • Updating security infrastructure, including cameras, access control systems and metal detectors.

Yes, but: The success of these policies can depend on whether staff uses and knows about them, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, executive director at the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium.

  • "Reading the numerous ways in which information wasn't shared or policies and procedures weren't followed, like with threat assessment, it's difficult," Schildkraut told Axios of the report.
  • "We know that these are the ways in which you prevent shootings, and so when you're not doing them and then wondering why the shooting happened, it's kind of confusing."

Go deeper: Axios reviewed the report Wednesday and Thursday. Here's more on those three key points.

RPS officials knew of threats

Jackson's mother tried to get him transferred out of Huguenot.

  • In November 2021, she emailed his high school counselor saying "we are basically in hiding, because of [an] incident one of his friends was in."
  • In June 2022, she wrote the principal, the counselor and RPS superintendent Jason Kamras saying that their home had been "shot up" by Huguenot students and that her son had been in and out of a mental health treatment center.
  • In February 2023, after Jackson came to school to take a test, the mother emailed the counselor to say "he was in the class with people who literally tried to kill him."

Yes but: Although multiple staff members were aware of these instances, investigators found that they didn't report them as required by the school system.

Jackson wasn't cleared to be at graduation

Jackson entered homebound instruction in recent years due to threats of violence, depression and suicidal ideation, the report says.

  • Homebound students aren't allowed on school property or school-sponsored events without the permission of the school principal or a designee, according to an RPS handbook on home instruction.
  • But Jackson was present on RPS property for testing four separate times in 2023 and then a fifth time on graduation.

Zoom in: The principal at the time of the shooting, Robert Gilstrap, didn't officially sign off on Jackson attending graduation, the report says.

  • Neither did the counselor, who said she didn't know there was an approval process and thought it was up to the student to decide.
  • Jackson-Smith asked the counselor days before the ceremony whether Jackson needed to be at rehearsal to walk.
  • The counselor said, "I will just squeeze him in if you feel that [rehearsal is] too dangerous."

The officials listed in the report ā€” from district leaders to the counselor ā€” didn't have a clear understanding of RPS' policy against homebound student participation without permission.

  • Multiple officials said they thought it was a "suggested practice," not a strict rule.

The bottom line: One central office leader estimated that "probably" none of the principals have read the handbook because it was just posted on the website.

Metal detectors uncertainty

A $45,000 contract to use the Altria Theater for eight graduation ceremonies included 40 walkthrough metal detectors, but there are conflicting reports on whether they were used and functioning.

School board members Shonda Harris-Muhammed and Stephanie Rizzi, who attended the ceremony, couldn't remember seeing any at graduation.

  • Harris-Muhammed said she also didn't receive any security screening.
  • Kevin Monroe, Huguenot's assistant principal, told reviewers that he walked through a metal detector but it didn't go off, even though he had a watch, belt and his cellphone in hand.
  • Altria didn't comply with requests for video footage to confirm or deny witness accounts.
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