Finding the culprit that reportedly fired a TEC-9 into a crowd of students attending a party Oct. 9 is no closer to becoming a reality despite both Newton High School and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office investigating the matter.
According to reports released by the NCSO, an officer was called to an address on Emerson Trail in The Silos subdivision at roughly 11:42 p.m. in reference to a large group of people fighting. When the deputy arrived he noticed people walking away from the area where the fight was reported and as he made his way on foot through the crowd, the deputy reportedly heard what sounded like gunshots coming from Trinity Lane and Emerson Trial and ducked for cover.
While investigating, the deputy spoke to three people who reportedly told him someone had been shooting into a crowd from the top of a hill and that their vehicle had been vandalized by a baseball bat as well as shot. According to reports, the incident began when someone at the party had been jumped. That’s when the TEC-9 came into play as someone began shooting it in the air. Spent 9-mm shell casings were later found.
The deputy was told by people in attendance that the party had been for Newton High School students and the football team. NHS coach Nick Collins said his entire football team was not in attendance, but that some members of the team had been guests at the party. He also said the party was given for a student that was leaving the school and students from other area high schools were in attendance as well.
According to NHS principal Dr. Roderick Sams, although the event was not school-related, school officials have been looking into the matter.
"We are looking into whether or not anyone that may be involved in the shooting is a student and up to this point we have not determined if anyone actually involved were students. We want to make sure that we take the appropriate action if one of our students was involved and we want to make sure the school is protected," he said.
The schools do have policies in their codes of conduct that allow them to look at incidences that happen outside of the school involving students and that can adversely affect the school and take action accordingly in order to protect the students.
Sams said resource officers and administrators have been speaking with students they believe were guests at the party to see if they have any additional information that could assist the NCSO with their investigation. He also said the school keeps in constant contact with parents to make sure they are doing what they need to in order to protect the students at NHS.
Some parents have questioned the validity of the incident report and according to Mark Hegwood, who is investigating the incident, he has no more information as of press time about the incident but has no doubt the deputy who responded reported the incident correctly and that the information he released was information he was given by those in attendance.
Sheriff Joe Nichols also stood by the deputy, saying "All our deputies are duty sworn and it is their responsibility to record what is given to them. I have no reason to doubt that deputy and I stand by him and the incident report."
Sams has not questioned the incident report. His main concern is for students from all schools at the party as well as those who may not have been there but might be affected nonetheless.
"When I hear about these things I cringe because the likelihood of something serious happening is becoming a reality," he said. "The last thing I want to do is attend some memorial service for one of my students. At the end of the day we are all responsible to make sure that none of our children engage in dangerous activities."
According to Director of Public Relations for the Newton County School System Sherri Viniard, "From what we’ve been told, this was a private party that occurred during the fall break, when schools were closed. It was not an event sponsored or sanctioned by any of our schools. With that being said, students, especially those at the high school level, should remember and understand that they represent their schools every day—not just Monday through Friday from 8 to 4. Although we haven’t been informed of any student involvement or arrests in connection with the incident that occurred, students and their parents should keep in mind that certain law violations can and will result in disciplinary action at school."
Sams stressed the responsibility of adults and students alike. "I tell my students all the time there is no such thing as a snitch. Everyone has a responsibility to suppress inappropriate behavior," he said. "Not telling makes it seem like you condone these things and I know that isn’t true for our students or our parents.
"I have 2,100 kids in this school and I love every one of them," Sams continued, "but I will do anything I have to in order to keep these students and this school safe. If we are going to tackle this it needs to be a community-wide effort and we need to all be the type of quality adults that do not shy away from our responsibly and realize our children are a reflection of us."
Investigator Hegwood encourages anyone with information about the person or persons involved in the shooting on Oct. 9 to contact the NCSO with information at (678) 625-1400. Callers can remain anonymous. Tips may also be left anonymously at www.sheriff.co.newton.ga.us.