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Wilmer-Hutchins High School shooting raises safety concerns for Dallas parents, students

A crowd of people sits in church pews.
Toluwani Osibamowo
Dallas residents listen to community comments at New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday, April 16, 2024. The community meeting organized by Dallas ISD Trustee Maxie Johnson came days after one student shot and injured another at Wilmer-Hutchins High School April 12.

More thorough bag checks, more state funding and better care for Black Dallas youth are among some of the solutions community members want to see in the wake of last week’s Wilmer-Hutchins High School shooting, in which one student shot another in the leg Friday morning.

Those issues were raised during a community meeting at New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday night. The meeting, organized by Dallas ISD trustee Maxie Johnson, was meant to make room for residents' concerns just days after the shooting.

Johnson's own 21-year-old son was shot and killed in 2019, he told the assembled crowd of more than 50 people who lined the church pews. He said he spoke with the student who was shot as well as the boy’s mother and apologized to them both.

Johnson described the injured student as a "very articulate" and "smart" student athlete.

“I said, 'did you do anything? Was it an argument?'" Johnson said. "He said, 'no, sir.' Said, 'I guess I was just rolling around the wrong people.'"

Officers responded to the shooting around 10:30 a.m. Friday, Dallas ISD and Dallas Fire-Rescue said. The injured victim, who has not been identified, was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Ja’kerian Rhodes-Ewing, 17, was booked into the Dallas County Jail that evening and charged with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of unlawfully carrying a weapon in prohibited places, the Dallas Morning News reported.

In a press conference following the shooting, Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the district was investigating how the student got a handgun past the school’s metal detectors. District Police Chief Albert Martinez said police would check security camera footage at the school and look into any reports of faulty metal detectors.

A man stands in front of microphones at a podium.
Toluwani Osibamowo
Dallas ISD Trustee Maxie Johnson speaks to residents at a community meeting he organized at New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church April 16, 2024. Johnson hosted the community discussion in the wake of a shooting at Wilmer-Hutchins High School, part of his district, that left one student injured.

Tuesday night’s meeting came a day after Wilmer-Hutchins teachers and students walked out in protest of campus security. Many of those in attendance Tuesday night said they were worried Dallas ISD schools weren’t prepared to face those problems — in Wilmer-Hutchins and beyond.

"The way we check bags at school, it's more of teachers rather than security checking our bags," said Margarita Hernandez, an 18-year-old student from L.G. Pinkston High School in West Dallas. "We have security in the front, in the cafeteria, but not by the doors. We have students that don't go to L.G. Pinkston High School entering those doors sometimes."

Some pointed to systemic issues disproportionately affecting Black and brown families, like mass incarceration. Others blamed bullying as a contributor to gun violence in schools.

"Most kids is not just going to pick a fight with another kid just because," said Anthony Peterson, 59. "It's always an issue there."

Sha Brewer, 62, graduated from Wilmer-Hutchins in 1980 and remains involved in school activities. She said schools aren’t going to see more funding overnight — but making sure schools thoroughly secure building doors and check students’ bags is an immediate solution.

“We just have to get a resolution going pretty quick so that our students can feel safe and the parents can feel safe about sending their students to school,” she said.

Dallas ISD Chief of Schools Tiffany Huitt and other administrators attended the meeting but did not answer questions.

School safety has been a concern for Texas lawmakers in recent legislative sessions — especially in the wake of deadly mass shootings like the one in Uvalde in 2022, in which 19 kids and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School — but not everyone in the state House and Senate agrees on how to solve the problem of school violence.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring an armed person in most Texas schools. The measure signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott also requires mental health training for some school employees.

But the law’s critics say it imposes a mandate on districts without also providing the funding necessary to follow through. And some like Johnson blame Abbott’s focus on establishing a school voucher-like program in Texas for a perceived lack of attention paid to public education and school safety.

“When you put these mandates on public education, it's like me telling my son to go in the kitchen and make a meal and I have not provided the food for him,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, stricter gun laws face an uphill battle in the Texas Legislature. Last year a bill inspired by the Robb Elementary shooting that would have raised the age to buy AR-15 style rifles died in the Texas Senate.

On Tuesday, Texas Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas, said it was time to revisit gun laws in Austin.

“This is a call to action that says that communities like ours who have continued to experience violence — and it hasn't stopped — enough is enough,” Jones said. “And we have to make sure that we are allocating state and local resources and attention to be able to address this problem.”

Correction: This story incorrectly listed Maxie Johnson's son's age as 20 years old. He was 21.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.