By ALAN CLENDENNING
NEW ORLEANS – An argument between 13-year-old and 14-year-old students escalated into a gunfight on the grounds of a middle school today, critically wounding both boys.
Witnesses told police that after an argument, the 13-year-old got a gun from someone who passed the weapon through a fence.
The 13-year-old shot the 14-year-old, then, the 14-year-old grabbed the gun and shot the 13-year-old, according to police spokesman Lt. Marlon DeFillo said.
Police recovered .38-caliber revolver believed used in the shooting at Carter G. Woodson Middle School in uptown New Orleans.
The shooting happened just before noon in a breezeway between the school cafeteria and the main building.
Both students appeared conscious when they were taken by ambulances to Charity Hospital, said David Bowser, a police spokesman. They were listed in critical condition, said hospital spokeswoman Jean Patterson.
There had been several fights reported at the school in the past few weeks, but it was unclear whether the shooting was related to the fights, Bowser said.
Police chief Richard Pennington said police were checking into parents’ claims that there has been a gang turf battle involving students at the schools.
“We don’t think this is gang related. We think it was two children involved in a fight and a third person came and gave a gun,” police chief Richard Pennington said.
Mike Smith, a 14-year-old seventh-grader, said he heard the shots and saw panicked students run inside the school.
“I heard it and everybody started running. Everybody just ran,” he said.
Smith said teachers made them stay inside classrooms until it was safe.
More than 100 parents rushed to the school and lined up outside as officials let small groups enter the building to get their children.
One parent said recent violence at the school had made her daughter fearful.
“She was afraid to come to school two weeks ago because boys were fighting,” Veronica Lewis said as she hugged her daughter Neshetta, 14, outside the building. “I told her she’d be all right. Now I’m just afraid for my child.”
The school sits among modest pastel-painted houses in the New Orleans’ uptown area, a racially and economically diverse part of town where low- and middle-income homes sit close behind the stately mansions that line St. Charles Avenue.
School superintendent Alphonse Davis said classes at the school would be canceled for the next three days in what he called “a cooling-off period.” However, the school would remain open for students who want to talk to counselors.
Two or three police officers will be assigned to the school, in addition to the usual 10 assigned to the neighborhood, when classes resume next week, police said.
In 1994, New Orleans had the nation’s worst murder rate. That has fallen more than 50 percent since then, with 162 murders last year.
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