When school let out at June Jordan School for Equity on Tuesday, four figures snuck through the trees of McLaren Park and into the school parking lot, where they opened fire on a student and sent bullets flying into a crowd of bystanders.
The shooters, who were still on the run as of Wednesday, used both pistols and air guns, according to one of their victims. Four high school students were struck with bullets — including the intended target — and another four were hit by BBs.
The shooting sent waves of emotion through a campus that is averse and previously resistant to violence. The climate at the Excelsior District school mirrors the rebellious spirit of the poet and activist it was named after. Its emblem is a raised black fist.
One 12th grader, who asked not to be named to avoid retaliation, said she was struck on the leg with a ricocheted BB. Despite her wound, the 18-year-old student dragged her injured friend to safety during the shooting.
“The people that were in front of me, I could have saved them,” the senior said. “But I got the nearest person and it was one of my friends, and she got hurt. I was more focused on her safety than on mine.”
The senior described a crowded and chaotic scene that shocked her, interrupting the sense of safety she has always felt at June Jordan.
Late Wednesday morning, as she limped around campus with an icepack on the side of her knee, more than 100 students and staff gathered in a circle to show that the violence was not a manifestation of the peaceful June Jordan community, but the outside world creeping in.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on out there,” said Toni Gill, a staff member. “Not only did it come close to home, it came home yesterday.”
While numerous students, parents and staff described June Jordan as a safe-haven, the neighborhoods that surround the campus are often a hotbed for crime, including three homicides earlier this year.
Gill, 51, described a mixture of emotions that she has experienced in the wake of the shooting, ranging from anger to sadness.
“What happened here yesterday was out of the norm,” said Gill, who has worked there for more than a decade.
The suspects are outsiders to June Jordan who were targeting one of the students, according to police and school officials. Three male students are expected to survive, while one female student was taken to the hospital in critical condition.
The students have received “appropriate medical attention and are recovering from their injuries,” according a statement from the San Francisco Unified School District.
Principal Matt Alexander came to tears as the senior, whose identity is being withheld, told her story in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner.
“That you had the strength in that moment to see yourself as a leader, I’m like, okay, my job is done,” Alexander said to her. “If I got a senior who’s just witnessing a freaking shooting and your first thought is, ‘I got to help everybody,’ that’s so beautiful.”
Lupe Vela, 17, said she was about to leave school when she saw people running, so she followed and took shelter in a classroom for safety.
“When we were in there it was calm,” Vela said. “June Jordan is our home.”
According to a source in the San Francisco Police Department, staff members may have added to the chaos when they tried to stop police from entering the campus immediately after the shooting. Police were responding to what was first perceived as an active-shooter situation.
In a joint statement from the SFUSD and SFPD, spokespersons Heidi Anderson and Officer Carlos Manfredi said “there was some momentary confusion” between staffers and police.
“The Police Department and SFUSD will continue to work closely to make sure there is a shared understanding of the type of possible response to a school incident involving the safety of any person, staff member or student,” the statement reads.
The shooting brought back traumatic memories for Jay Diaz Santos, a 12th grader who has experienced gun violence in the past.
“When I was little there was a gunshot in the house,” Diaz Santos said. “I was in front of the mirror and it went into the mirror.”
Board of Education President Matt Haney said the shooting was devastating for the whole district.
The SFUSD “stands ready to support the students, educators, and families of June Jordan,” Haney said in a text message. “We need to come together, for healing, and to end violence in our communities.”
On Wednesday morning, 36-year-old Nefateria Greenwood said her two children were at first hesitant to head to school.
“I feel scared for the students, even the suspects,” Greenwood said. “At the same time, I feel like my babies are safe.”
As for the senior who was struck in the leg, she wants justice.
“These kids and I, we’re just innocent people,” she said. “We didn’t have to get injured like this.”
Students and parents come together to express feelings and comfort one another at June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco's Excelsior District Wednesday, October 19, 2016 following a shooting that occurred in the school parking lot injuring four students Tuesday, October 18. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Jonah Owen Lamb contributed to this report.