HAMMOND, La. (AP) — Three people were shot and one person was injured in the resulting chaos that followed as the Hammond High School graduation ceremony late Thursday ended at Southeastern Louisiana University, authorities said Friday.
Trent Thomas, 20, of Hammond, was arrested shortly after the shots were reported around 8 p.m. He faces three counts of attempted second-degree murder, possession of a firearm in a gun-free zone, aggravated damage to property, and obstruction of justice, SLU Police Chief Michael Beckner said at a news conference. He's being held at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail. It was unknown if he has an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
The injuries were all described as not life-threatening, Hammond Police Chief Edwin Bergeron said.
The shooting appeared to stem from an altercation between the suspect and another person, he said.
“There's possible gang affiliation involved, but we're not 100% positive,” Bergeron said. “We're doing our best to determine a motive.”
“The victims who were shot had absolutely nothing to do with it,” he added. “My thoughts go out to the families who had to deal with this and will carry this memory as they remember this graduation.”
At least 10 shots were fired, Bergeron said, and investigators believe there were at least two shooters.
Law enforcement at the graduation allowed them to quickly respond to the gunfire, said Chief Jimmy Travis of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office.
“This situation was taken under control very quickly to protect lives and the safety of the students and the family there,” Travis said.
More arrests are probable, Bergeron said.
“The most important thing we need to know is that right now Hammond is safe, Southeastern is safe, there’s no longer an active situation. We’re just going to be processing the scene from here and continuing to do our investigation,” Bergeron said.
He asked anyone with photos or videos of the shooting to contact police to help with the probe, The Daily Star reported.
Tangipahoa Parish Schools Superintendent Melissa Stilley said the ceremony had ended before the shooting began.
“We had a normal graduation for Hammond High School within the building,” Stilley said. “When our graduates were ready to dismiss and their families were outside ready to greet them outside the University Center, that’s when the shots began to fire.”
“We apologize to our families and to our students that this night, which should have been a very happy occasion for our graduates and their families ended on such a sad note. And we pray for the families that were impacted directly and our students who will always have this memory of this graduation on their minds," she said.
As a result of the incident, Hammond High held virtual class for students on Friday.
Beckner said they were preparing for another graduation ceremony later Friday to be held on campus and for at least two more over the weekend. Hammond Police planned more patrols, and school resource officers as well as campus police, sheriff's deputies and state police were expected to be on hand.
“We're asking that people leave their bags in their cars to help mitigate the risks,” he said.
Shamika Varnado, a Hammond High alumnus who attended the ceremony with her mother and 7-year-old daughter, described a scene of chaos and fear.
“We did get out without getting shot, but we were so close I smelled the powder,” Varnado told the newspaper.
This story correct that three people were shot and an additional person was injured.