RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Seven people were shot, two fatally, when gunfire rang out Tuesday outside a downtown theater in Richmond, Virginia, where a high school graduation ceremony had just ended, causing hundreds of attendees to flee in panic, weep and clutch their children, authorities and witnesses said.
A 19-year-old suspect tried to escape on foot but was arrested and will be charged with two counts of second-degree murder, Interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards said during a nighttime news conference at which he confirmed the two fatalities.
The shooting happened around 5:15 p.m. ET outside the Altria Theater, where Huguenot High School was holding its graduation ceremony.
An 18-year-old male Huguenot High School student was one of the two people shot and killed on Tuesday. The other death was a 36-year-old man. Police have not released the names of the victims yet.
Five other people were shot. A 31-year-old person has life-threatening gunshot injuries. A 14-year-old male, a 32-year-old man, a 55-year-old man and a 58-year-old man all have non-life threatening injuries
Several other people were injured or taken to the hospital in the aftermath of the shooting, including a 9-year-old girl who was hit by a car. She was treated for injuries and has since been released from the hospital.
Two people were injured after falling and three people self-transported to the hospital for anxiety.
Two suspects have been taken into custody, according to Richmond Police. One suspect was a 19-year-old male who police currently believe knew at least one of the victims. Police plan on charging this suspect with two counts of second degree murder, with more potential charges to follow.
Another person was taken into custody who had a firearm, but police now believe that this person was not involved in the shooting.
Police are not looking for anyone else at this time and there is no longer a threat to the community.
“We’re going to do everything we can to bring the individuals involved in this to justice,” Mayor Levar Stoney said at the news conference. “This should not be happening anywhere.”
Richmond School Board member Jonathan Young told WRIC the shooting broke out as students and families were leaving the graduation ceremony. In a message posted to its website, Richmond Public Schools said the shooting took place in Monroe Park, which is across the street from Altria Theater.
A witness told WRIC they heard at least 30 shots fired.
“Everyone literally started running for their lives,” the witness explained. She said she believes at least one of the people shot was a graduate.
All Richmond schools have been closed for Wednesday, June 7.
“This is supposed to be a joyous day when our kids walk the stage and get their diplomas, which is what they all did here today for Huguenot…and then this tragedy occurred,” Richmond Public Schools superintendent Jason Kamras said. “I’m just tired of seeing people get shot, our kids get shot. I beg of the entire community to stop.”
As he heard the gunshots and then sirens, neighbor John Willard, 69, stepped onto the balcony of his 18th-floor apartment. Below, he saw students fleeing in their graduation outfits and parents hugging children.
“There was one poor woman in front of the apartment block next to ours who was wailing and crying,” Willard said, adding that the scene left him deeply saddened.
Edythe Payne was helping her daughter sell flowers outside the theater to students as they left the ceremony. She told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the shooting caused a panic on nearby Main Street, which was packed with people at the time.
“I felt bad because some elderly people were at the graduation and they got knocked down to the ground,” Payne said.
The school district said a different graduation scheduled for later Tuesday had been canceled “out of an abundance of caution” and schools would be closed Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.