DC-area students tweet about high school shooting instead of dialing 911: police

Students at Magruder High School in Maryland witnessed one classmate shoot another teenager in a bathroom, Montgomery County police say

Several students at a Maryland high school in the Washington, D.C., area neglected to call 911 about a bathroom shooting and instead tweeted about the incident and went back to class, leaving the teenage victim bleeding out until he was discovered by a security guard, according to law enforcement. 

The shooting happened Friday afternoon at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, which eliminated its school resource officer program at the start of the school year last fall. 

During a news conference Monday, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones described how a school security officer first discovered the 15-year-old victim while conducting a customary security sweep during a class change and quickly reached out for additional security and a school nurse. 

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The call first came through at 12:57 p.m. as an "injured person," which warrants response from fire and rescue, Jones said. Upon further examination, the school nurse realized that the injury was a gunshot wound and police were activated. The first member of law enforcement on scene was a sheriff’s deputy, the assigned community engagement officer, who arrived in seven minutes from a nearby elementary school. 

The school was placed into lockdown as backup units arrived. Once investigators determined there was no active shooter situation unfolding, they worked to identify the suspect, Jones said Monday. 

"We later discovered that there were some students who we believe who were possibly present in the bathroom who began to tweet out that a shooting had occurred and in fact gave the subject and the victim’s information over Twitter," Jones said. "Those very same students did not notify any MCPS [Montgomery County Public Schools] staff, nor did they notify 911 that one of their classmates had been shot and was suffering from his wounds in the bathroom. This student, the victim, was actually located during a hall sweep by MCPS school security during a change of classes at that particular time."

Jones left the decision on whether those bystanders would face disciplinary action up to the school district but issued a call to action for parents and law enforcement to talk to students about the importance of cooperating with authorities and helping their classmates. 

"It is wiser to get people the help started that they need rather than being the superstar on Twitter that day," he said. "That’s a reality we need to have a real conversation with our young people about. There is a place for social media. But then there’s a time and a place when we need to help our fellow man."

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Investigative measures and tips led to the suspect being identified as 17-year-old Steven Alston Jr., who was not in his assigned classroom when the school went into lockdown, Jones said. The chief explained that a tactical response team located him in another classroom and strategized how to safely take Alston Jr. into custody without creating panic, knowing that other students and staff were inside the room. 

Alston Jr. was ordered held without bond Monday during an appearance in Maryland District Court where prosecutors claimed the teen purchased a ghost gun online to shoot his 15-year-old classmate in a school bathroom as part of an ongoing feud. The victim remained in critical condition Monday. 

Jones said Alston Jr. was taken into custody without incident at a time when the gun in his possession was no longer operational because it was in three separate parts. The frame of the gun was located on the floor, the slide of the gun was found in the suspect’s backpack, and the magazine -- a gun clip with ammunition -- was recovered from one of the suspect’s socks, police said. He is being prosecuted as an adult for attempted second-degree murder, felony assault and other weapons offenses.

Colonel Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland. 

Colonel Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland.  (Google Maps)

Speaking at the same news conference with the police chief on Monday, Montgomery County Public Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said students at Magruder High School should expect enhanced police presence on campus this week, including the community engagement officer and other officers in the building, especially during high traffic times of arrival, lunch and dismissal. 

The superintendent vowed to provide additional mental health support for students and to conduct a "pretty comprehensive review of all safety and security measures in our schools" over the coming months. She, however, fell short of promising a return of the school resource officer program. 

"We have community engagement officers in which we started a relationship with this year when we returned to in-person learning, and they have already established relationships with the principals and have been working with them," McKnight said. "However, as you know, they did not have a presence in the schools. They, in fact, will have a presence at the school this week." 

"In terms of the program, we committed at the very beginning of the year when we implemented the community engagement officer program that we would reevaluate it. We would constantly evaluate it because we knew that is what we learned from our prior program," McKnight continued. 

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"I don’t want to see any particular program come back that we have learned there are dynamics of the program that doesn’t work. And that’s what we learned from the SRO program," she said. 

"Yes, there were positives to that program, but there were also negatives. It’s more about looking at what type of environment do we want to create in our schools that’s a safe one and built on the premise of relationship building. And it is incumbent on us to build the right program."

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced in March that school resource officers would no longer be stationed inside every school building in the county at the start of the school year after summer break, instead community resource officers would be assigned to groups of schools in the same geographic areas and would respond to individual incidents as needed, Bethesda Magazine reported.