FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — More than a dozen police academy cadets searched a high school athletic field Thursday, eyes trained on the frozen ground for signs of a getaway path possibly used by suspects who shot and wounded two students outside a gymnasium where two basketball games were in progress.
Police were considering gang violence and the rivalry with crosstown opponent Gov. Thomas Johnson High as possible motives for the Wednesday night shooting at Frederick High School. Investigators believe the victims and assailants knew each other, Frederick Police Sgt. Aaron Lapp said in a written statement Thursday evening.
They also were looking into reports from students who said they saw four to five males — dressed in big coats and hands in their pockets — walk into the gymnasium during the game and leave shortly before shots were fired, Capt. Richard Hetherington said.
Investigators believe the culprits fled on foot, he said.
Police also obtained school surveillance video and planned to re-interview the victims, he said.
Frederick, with about 68,000 residents, is a rapidly growing city about 40 miles west of both Baltimore and Washington.
The shooting left two male students with injuries that were not life-threatening, and sent spectators running for cover as frantic parents rushed to the scene to make sure their children were OK.
The wounded students are 14 and 15, said Denise Pouget, chief of Frederick County Fire and Rescue Services. She said one was shot in a leg, and the other was hit in the back.
Lapp said they were flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
The school was closed Thursday but some players and their parents returned to retrieve street clothing the athletes left behind. One mother, who would give only her first name, Talia, said she didn't think school security was too lax. Another, who declined to give her name for fear of putting her family at risk, said the shooting made her feel the school was unsafe.
Two junior varsity basketball games were going on at the time of the shooting, Frederick County public schools spokesman Michael Doerrer said. The students who were shot attend a Frederick County school other than Frederick High, Doerrer said.
He said two, unarmed, private security guards were on duty during the game. Security officers and police patrols were increased at all district schools Thursday, he said.
Superintendent Theresa Alban told a news conference the number of security officers at athletic events depends on the anticipated size of the crowd and the perceived potential for trouble.
"Historically, JV basketball games have not been where we've seen incidents occur as often," she told reporters in video footage posted online by The Frederick News-Post.
In a video posted to the district's YouTube channel, Alban said the shooting doesn't mean the schools are dangerous.
"We all know that there are issues, many times, that are out there in the community that sometimes spill into our schools, and that's exactly what happened yesterday," Alban said.
After the shootings at about 8 p.m., officers took about 200 players, faculty, staff and fans into the school cafeteria, secured the building and questioned witnesses, Hetherington said.
The students were released to their parents several hours later in the parking lot of a nearby bowling alley. There was excited chatter as parents hugged their children.
Frederick High School junior Sofia McCluskey said she was watching the game and heard a muffled shot. "Someone yelled, 'Yo, they're shooting,'" she said. "And we just ran as fast as we could."
Her friend Stephanie Sanchez said it was a frightening experience. "I was, like, shaking the whole time. I still am," she said late Wednesday night.
DeJuan Jones, a sophomore, said he knew the boys who were shot. He said he believes the shooting was gang-related.
Dana Wiles said her daughter sent her a text message about the shooting from inside the school. The girl didn't see the shooting, but saw one of the victims who had come back inside after he was hit, Wiles said.
"She's not coming back to any more basketball games," Wiles said. "I'm keeping her home with me."
Tanika Mayweather, whose 15-year-old son Lawrence was playing in the basketball game, said she's not letting him play basketball for the school anymore.
"We'll have our basketball games out in the park," she said.
Frederick High School, on the city's west side, has about 1,300 students. The school district closed the school and West Frederick Middle School for students on Thursday. The schools are set to reopen Friday.