ROCKFORD — Tuesday’s shooting in the Auburn High School parking lot is serving as a call to action for area leaders, parents, and concerned community members — all of whom are saying enough is enough when it comes to youth and violence.
It’s been nearly 40 years since someone was shot on school property in Rockford.
The last time was Dec. 16, 1983, when teacher Sharon Mundt was shot in the neck in her classroom at Boylan Catholic High School by a 15-year-old student she had disciplined. Mundt survived.
Tuesday’s victims — two 17-year-old students — are expected to recover from their wounds, as well. Similar to 1983, arrests were made quickly. Three teens were taken into custody Tuesday afternoon.
Some residents are raising concerns about whether it’s possible for school officials and law enforcement to keep students safe.
“Police are doing their job,” said Domonique Marshall, a Rockford business owner with two children in the district. “But just like the schools, they’re behind. They can’t act quickly enough.”
Rockford School Board President Jude Makulec said the violence isn’t something that will be solved by the school district alone.
Hiring more resource officers, security cameras, and closing Auburn’s campus, a move made Tuesday, are all necessary measures, she said, but they can’t be the only things to prevent future incidents.
“It’s a community issue,” she said. “This isn’t something that’s just happening in our schools. There’s the violence happening, and there has to be a community approach. We have to have a multi-tiered and multi-faceted approach. It can’t be just from one direction.”
During a press conference Tuesday, Rockford Police Chief Carla Redd issued what she called a “public cry for help,” saying while officers work tirelessly to keep the city safe, they need citizens to step up a play a role.
“Wrap your arms around these young people and ensure that they’re going down the right path,” Redd said.
Though she commends officials for recognizing the need to work together, Marshall fears the problems with guns on the streets and the children who aren’t afraid to use them will only grow unless those in charge get a handle on the situation.
A repeat of the Boylan shooting could be next, she said.
“Kids can get ghost guns,” Marshall said. “All they have to do is go to Chicago and buy them at a really good price. So, it’s not kids getting their parents’ guns. I don’t think it’s none of that. It’s kids doing it on their own. Their parents aren’t aware.”
Makulec said the community also is dealing with gangs that are constantly changing.
“We have not only our local ones but kids coming in from Chicago,” she said. “We see that mobility when kids register for school. We know it’s not just kids who were born and bred in Rockford. There’s an influx of students — gang members from other communities. But it doesn’t matter that they come in from elsewhere. This is what we have, and we have to deal with it.”
The way the district chose to communicate with parents as the shooting unfolded also drew criticism.
Marshall said parents weren’t told why Auburn was locked down until after the parking lot was cordoned off with crime-scene tape.
Makulec acknowledged that parents weren’t given details as they unfolded because there were none to report.
“Parents were immediately notified that the school was locked down,” Makulec said. “But it was an active police investigation. Nobody knew the rest of the details. They only knew about what happened in the parking lot. So, they locked down the building.”
Administrators needed to conclude that the Auburn campus was safe before releasing more information, Makulec said. Announcing details before the property was deemed safe would not have been a wise decision.
“I am a parent,” she said. “You want to run over and save your kid. But a lockdown is a lockdown. Everybody stays in the building. If you have a situation that’s active, you don’t know the extent, you contact all the parents, and they all come running to the school, that puts more people in danger.”
Three teens, Nyreek Williams, 16; Fraquon Wright, 17; and a 15-year-old juvenile face multiple charges in Tuesday’s incident, including attempted murder.