BALTIMORE (AP) — At least two people opened fire during a dispute between two groups at Morgan State University homecoming events Tuesday night, but the five victims were likely not the shooters’ intended targets, officials said.
All other homecoming events and classes were canceled for the remainder of the week, including Saturday’s football game, university President David Wilson announced late Wednesday afternoon. Wilson said the regrettable decision marked “the very first time in Morgan’s history” that such events were canceled. Some students were seen leaving campus with duffel bags and suitcases Wednesday afternoon.
“Today, we unfortunately find ourselves navigating this tragic event during a time at which we should be celebrating,” Wilson said in a letter to the university community.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said preliminary evidence indicates the shooters were targeting one person, who wasn’t among the victims. All five are expected to survive. Worley said a third person also pulled a gun during the dispute, though it wasn’t clear whether they pulled the trigger. He said ballistics testing will reveal how many shooters were ultimately involved.
The updates from police Wednesday morning helped quell rumors circulating online about whether the attack was racially motivated or a planned school shooting on the historically Black university campus in northeast Baltimore.
The shooting unfolded around 9:30 p.m., shortly after a coronation ceremony for this year’s Mister and Miss Morgan State in the campus auditorium. Attendees were walking from the auditorium to the student center for a coronation ball, which was about to begin when gunfire sent people scattering in fear.
The gunshot victims — four men and one woman — are between ages 18 and 22. Four are Morgan State students.
No arrests have been made yet.
City police and university officials initially warned students of an active shooter and ordered them to shelter in place for hours while SWAT officers went door to door searching for suspects. Worley said police heard gunshots and several dorm windows shattered, so officials initially thought there was an active shooter and acted accordingly.
On campus Wednesday afternoon, workers were replacing the windows and sweeping up broken glass while students milled about — some commenting on the evolving crime scene, which included blood splatters on a concrete walkway and yellow crime tape crisscrossing the adjacent courtyard. A neon sign at one campus entrance flashed: “Morgan family, Morgan strong.”
Emani Jones-Grant, a freshman from New Jersey, said that instead of visiting for homecoming weekend, her family was planning to pick her up Thursday. She said she’s enjoying college overall, but the shooting left her and others feeling shaken.
“The vibe is weird,” she said. “A lot of people are talking about leaving for the weekend.”
Michelle Newman said she drove down from New York after getting frantic calls from her daughter, a freshman, who was having a panic attack as the shooting unfolded Tuesday night, saying a bullet came through her dorm room window.
“She was hysterical,” Newman said. “She called to ask us what she was supposed to do.”
Newman said she planned to bring her daughter home where she would feel safe.
The chaos of the previous night was still fresh in people’s minds.
Jennifer Eden, 34, of Baltimore, attended the coronation ceremony and was headed toward the student center with a friend when shots rang out and people started running.
“I had never been so close to gunshots that I could feel the vibration in the air,” Eden said. “Coronation is very much a pomp and circumstance kind of event. People are in gowns and tuxedos and crowns and sashes, and so gun violence is the furthest thing from my mind in that type of setting.”
But previous Morgan State homecoming celebrations have also been subject to violence.
During a news conference on campus Wednesday, a reporter with the university’s student newspaper asked officials how they plan to address what has become a trend: Last October, a young man was shot during what officials called an unsanctioned homecoming after-party on the campus, and the year before, a freshman was arrested and charged with shooting his classmate over homecoming weekend.
Morgan State University Police Chief Lance Hatcher said the agency has taken “extraordinary measures to bring additional security resources to campus” in recent years, including increased police presence and surveillance camera coverage. University police officers heard the gunshots while patrolling the campus Tuesday night and responded almost immediately to render aid, officials said.
“Unfortunately, individuals respond to campus and act poorly,” he said. “Oftentimes you can’t stop a bad actor from doing bad acts, but we will continue to try to ensure the safety of our students.”
Advocates and local leaders said the shooting highlights the drumbeat of trauma students are experiencing in schools across the country.
“It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that this shooting took place during homecoming week for a generation that has been raised on school shooting drills and mass shootings,” said Kris Brown, president of Brady, a nationwide group that advocates for stronger gun controls. “Gun violence has been a daily presence for this generation, and it is now following them into adulthood.”
“This is not the first time something has happened during homecoming week at Morgan, so there’s a lot of soul-searching that I think all of us have to do,” Baltimore City Council member Odette Ramos, whose district includes part of Morgan State’s campus, said during a council hearing Wednesday afternoon. “But the issue is also guns.”
In remarks to the media Wednesday morning, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott reiterated his demand for Congress to pass substantive gun reform, calling the shooting a “sickening reminder … of how commonplace these incidents have become.”
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore also condemned the violence at the start of a board meeting Wednesday. The Democratic governor said the state was making resources available to help the university.
“We as a society, we cannot allow this to stand,” he said.