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Senior Skip Day Ends in Tragic Shooting at Schrom Hills Park

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Posted on: April 26, 2024

By ANNA BEDFORD-DILLOW, Greenbelt News Review

Update May 1: According to ABC7 News, all students injured in the shooting have been released from the hospital. A 16-year-old and a 14-yr-old have been charged as adults for the shooting. The 16-year-old, who is from Bowie, is being held without bond in a juvenile detention center. The 14-year-old had not yet appeared in court as of April 30.

Friday, April 19 was Senior Skip Day for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) senior students. This year the day ended in an eruption of violence at Schrom Hills Park, leaving five teens shot, two of whom remain in the hospital. The day is a tradition dating back decades in which seniors skip school for a day sometime during their finals weeks of classes and gather to have fun together. It’s not organized or sanctioned by PGCPS but it’s well known and recurs each spring. One parent said flyers about the day had been circulating in area high schools.

Hundreds of students, from a variety of county schools, gathered earlier Friday afternoon in Bowie. The crowd of 500 to 600 young people was dispersed from their gathering there and reconvened at Greenbelt’s Schrom Hills Park. Greenbelt did not have any warning from other agencies about the potential large gathering prior to it happening. Those participating in Senior Skip Day included Eleanor Roosevelt High School students and “probably almost every school in the county,” said Chief Richard Bowers of Greenbelt Police Department. The students likely used text messages and social media to communicate the locations to convene.

Around 2:30 p.m. officers from Greenbelt Police Department, Prince George’s County Police, Berwyn Heights Police and Maryland State Police responded to calls for crowd control at the park. Officers were walking into the park when they heard gunshots ring out, said Bowers. The officers went to where the gunshots were coming from, which was the area of the Schrom Hills outdoor pavilion, and treated it like an active shooter event. There they found five teenagers who had been shot.

The victims range in age from 16 to 18 years; all are male. Two of the teens that were shot attend Bowie High School, two attend Dr. Henry A. Wise High School and one attends Largo High School.

The victims were taken to local hospitals. One, a student from Bowie High School, was in critical condition. By Saturday afternoon three of the victims had been released from the hospital and the teen in critical condition had been upgraded to stable, following surgery. The two that remain hospitalized are Largo High School and Bowie High School students.

Officers on the Scene

City Manager Josué Salmerón said it was fortunate that officers were already on the scene on Friday. “I feel that the incident was prevented from getting worse because we already had law enforcement on the site; we had over 20 officers already on the scene …  They were setting up to monitor the event because there were just too many young people there to disperse and close down the park.… Within minutes of their arriving and setting up the shooting happened, and they immediately jumped in to provide aid.” All Greenbelt police officers are trained in trauma first aid. Medical responders were delayed in reaching the victims for 20 minutes due to the traffic exiting from Schrom Hills in the aftermath of the shots.

At the time of the gunshots “the entire five to six hundred people in the park all began to flee out toward Hanover Parkway, the adjoining roadway, and we believe at that time that the individual suspect left with that group of people,” said Bowers, who told the News Review that police believe they are looking for only one suspect in the shooting. They also believe the shooter to be of a similar age to the other people at the party. “It’s really concerning that you have a group of kids in a park, and it turns violent like this,” he said. “It’s really just a senseless, unnecessary tragedy. These five young men have been wounded and they’re going to have to deal with the consequences of this for the rest of their lives, and their families, and my heart goes out to them. I’m a father; I have two kids just a little bit older than that and so I can’t imagine my kids being involved in something like that when they were in high school. It’s really tragic that this happened and unfortunate,” Bowers told the News Review.

School Violence

Jonathan Briggs, PGCPS School Board Member for District 2, called the shooting “alarming.” “My thoughts and well wishes are with the families at this difficult time and, as a school board member, this event has reminded me of the ever growing need to address youth mental health and safety in our county. No parent should have to worry about whether their child will come home from school and this event is a reminder that there is so much more to be done at our schools and in our communities to support youth along the way,” he told the News Review. The county’s schools have seen increasing levels of violence in recent years, including an attempted murder on a school bus in May 2023 and the murder of a DuVal High School student in September after she tried to intervene in a fight between two groups of local students after school. This school year PGCPS mandated clear backpacks for high school students and installed metal detectors at the entrances to high schools.

Park Monitoring

Bowers said the police did not know Skip Day was going to happen. However, Schrom Hills Park is regularly monitored by the city’s Park and Recreation Department and park rangers patrol the park on an hourly basis. “We did not know that it was going to occur and we do everything we can to monitor that particular park,” said Bowers. “In less than about 40 minutes time, the park was empty and then it was full,” he said. Bowers said the police are not generally aware of when these events happen. In the past there have been similar Skip Days or even just nice days when students have decided to go to a park and there’ve been no issues to speak of, said Bowers. “You know, you get a couple of hundred kids in the park with water guns, they have a good time and they leave and go home, and that’s what I believe today was planned to be. There are water guns in the park that some kids had brought with them, and unfortunately it turned tragic,” he said. On Friday evening, Bowers told the News Review the police were already in contact with school security and working with them.

Beyond Greenbelt

“We’re going to explore ways of how we keep better visibility and vigilance over these large gatherings,” said Salmerón, who said the city would be speaking with surrounding law enforcement agencies to see how they can better coordinate messaging about large gatherings and large groups of people moving.

Asked how the city is responding to youth violence, Bowers said, “It’s not anything just the police department can do, not anything that just the Rec Department can do or our social services program. It takes everyone starting with the kids, mom and dad, the school system, the police department, [and] the Rec Department. And the other thing too is the City of Greenbelt is a small municipality; we only have 25,000 residents in the city. We’re inside of a county of a million people. So, it extends beyond the borders of what Greenbelt can do, it’s what can everybody in the county do and what can everybody in the state do? And really, we have to start educating our kids. It starts with our kids; getting them to think in a different way. How do you resolve issues rather than resorting to firearms, and then going from there,” said Bowers. “It always starts at home,” he said. “A lot of times you have kids that are just … beyond mom and dad’s control and then how do the schools step in, how do government services step in, where do we all fit in to get these kids the help that they need to be able to be productive?”

“I think legislation is failing our kids,” said Salmerón. “We decriminalize certain activity but we’re not funding youth development and at the same time we’re not providing enough safeguards around the ownership and acquisition of weapons,” he said in an interview with the News Review. “And how can we do it when we have so many states that abut each other with such varying policies? It’s difficult to do. Our borders are ephemeral,” said Salmerón.

Ongoing Investigation

Police now seek witnesses in the attempted murder of five young people. However, the Juvenile Interrogation Act may hamper what evidence police can gather. “We’re prevented from even speaking of anybody suspected of a crime under the age of 18,” said Bowers. “It really does limit what you can do in a follow-up investigation,” he said.

Police are unable to question a juvenile without parental consent and if a juvenile witness makes a statement they need a parent or guardian to sign off on it before it can be considered an official one. Some parents don’t want their children involved in an investigation or even to admit they were present, said Greenbelt Police Department’s Ricardo Dennis. He said the department has reached out to the community and is asking them to please send evidence to help in this case. “If you have video please send it,” he said. “Video is great because we don’t need juvenile questioning.” Anyone with information or an eyewitness account or video of the party that could aid the investigation is urged to call 301-474-7200. Email anonymous tips to CR*******@Gr*********.gov. Police have also set up a QR code for people to submit information through.

The logo of the Greenbelt Police department in the code box, along with the caption in white text on a red background.
The police ask anyone who may have witnessed the incident or have any footage to submit it by scanning the QR code. This will help the police to identify the person responsible for the shooting.

This article first appeared in the Greenbelt News Review and is reprinted with permission.



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