Police arrest suspected gunman from shooting outside Pittsburgh Brashear High School
November 14, 2013 12:11 AM
Pittsburgh police block Crane Avenue at Saw Mill Run Boulevard, the entrance to the Beechview neighborhood from Mount Washington. Brashear High School is in Beechview.
Anjohnito Willet Jr.
Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette
Police activity at the intersection of Crane and Lowenhill near Brashear High School after a reported shooting.
Police activity at the intersection of Crane and Lowenhill near Brashear High School follow a reported shooting.
Pittsburgh police block the intersection of Suburban Avenue at Hampshire Avenue, at the bottom of Rockland Avenue in Beechview.
This story was written by Liz Navratil based on her reporting and that of Lexi Belculfine, Eleanor Chute, Moriah Balingit, Molly Born, Robert Zullo and Jonathan D. Silver
A16-year-old arrested on charges that he shot three teenagers Wednesday afternoon in Beechview near Pittsburgh Brashear High School was attempting to get revenge for a robbery and assault last month, Pittsburgh police said.
Anjohnito "AJ" Willet fired seven or eight shots from a wooded area across Crane Avenue, Lt. Kevin Kraus of the major crimes unit said at an evening news conference.
Raw video: Police on scene of Brashear shootings
Police were called to Brashear High School today after three students were shot after exiting the school. (11/13/2013)
Police offer details on Brashear shootings
Diane Richard, Pittsburgh Police spokeswoman, provides details on the shooting of three students outside of Brashear High School. (Video by Andrew Rush; 11/13/2013)
Police arrest suspected gunman
Pittsburgh police arrested Anjohnito Willet, Jr., 16, in the shooting of three students near Brashear High School. (Video by John Heller; 11/13/2013)
"We believe the victims were walking down Lowenhill [Avenue] when the shots were fired. They turned around, retreated to the school and entered the school with the help of some others," the lieutenant said. "That created a lot of panic within the school. We had a lot of reports coming in for a school shooting. Of course, that speaks for itself."
Police said the shooting victims -- Brashear students Andrew Umphrey, 17, DaJour Jones, 15, and Robert "Eugene" Minor, 17 -- were suspects in an Oct. 18 assault inside Brashear High School in which Anjohnito was the victim.
Pittsburgh police said the assault and robbery incident was likely drug-related and it led to a weeklong lockdown at the school. Anjohnito withdrew from the school and the lockdown was lifted, police said.
Anjohinto "declined to prosecute," Lt. Kraus said. "He made remarks that he would take matters into his own account."
Two of the shooting victims were shot in the head and the third was shot in the foot less than a quarter-mile from the school, according to police.
Police quickly identified Anjohnito as a suspect. Early reports from witnesses to law enforcement indicated that as many as three people might have been involved in the attack.
Lt. Kraus said a second juvenile was with Anjohnito in the woods but was not responsible for the shooting. A third juvenile was passing through the woods but was not connected to those two, he said.
"We had several witness accounts. It was a very rapidly evolving situation," the lieutenant said. "There were a lot of witness reports. Some of them were different."
Some of them led police to Anjohnito and suggested he might be inside 1530 Rockland Ave., where he lives about a mile from the school.
Police surrounded the house and Anjohnito's father, 37-year-old Anjohnito R. Willet Jr., came out, as did his 30-year-old girlfriend.
Anjohnito, three teens ages 17 through 19 and a 1-year-old child were in the house next door -- 1528 Rockland Ave. Police surrounded the home and brought those inside to the police bureau's North Side headquarters for questioning. Some left the headquarters sporadically throughout the night, declining to comment.
Anjohnito's father and his father's girlfriend declined comment as they left around 10:30 p.m.
Police attempted Wednesday evening to obtain a search warrant for the houses.
"We have recovered a handgun in relation to this investigation. However we're not sure if that's the gun that was actually used in the shooting," Lt. Kraus said. "We have recovered some ballistic evidence. We have to send it to the lab for testing."
The investigation, he said, continues.
Witnesses describe the scene
Beechview residents living near the high school reported hearing shots just as school let out Wednesday afternoon. Then sirens.
The first reports came in to 911 at 2:50 p.m., four minutes after the school day officially ended.
Panicked students flooded back toward Brashear. That movement led to initial confusion about whether the shootings occurred on school property -- they didn't -- prompting a massive call out of officers.
PG graphic: Site of shooting (Click image for larger version)
Inside Brashear -- Pittsburgh Public Schools' largest high school, with 1,416 students -- faculty and administrators quietly gathered students who were still inside. Officials locked down the school, as well as Pittsburgh South Hills 6-8, which shares the building.
Brashear teacher Hannah McCarthy, one of the teachers union building representatives, said most of her peers were still in the building along with students staying late for cheerleading, sports, tutoring and other activities.
Ms. McCarthy said teachers were told to round up all of the students and take them to the library. Some later were taken to classrooms so all had a place to sit. In the library and classrooms, students and teachers talked with concerned parents by phone and supported one another.
Junior Jacklyn Reft said about a hundred students were still in the building when the shooting began. She was at cheerleading practice.
"We all got into a little bit of a panic," she said.
While the students, faculty and staff remained holed up, anxious parents streamed toward Brashear, emergency responders set up perimeters blocking access to steep Crane Avenue from both ends, and police, including members of the SWAT team, swarmed the duplex on Rockland Avenue where Anjohnito lives.
One of the victims was taken to Allegheny General Hospital. AGH trauma surgeon Alisa Cross said that student was expected to make a full recovery.
The other two students were taken to UPMC Mercy. One was the Minor youth, an 11th-grader at Brashear. His mother, Danielle Eberhardt, waited outside the hospital. She said she got a call that he was shot in the neck.
His father, Robert Minor, said he got to see his son Wednesday night and that he was smiling.
"Everything's good," Mr. Minor said. "He looks to be about normal."
Mr. Minor said the three boys who were shot are friends.
Adam Tajuddin, a 17-year-old senior, said about a month ago a fight between two students in the hallway was captured on video. He recognized one of the students being taken into police custody on the news.
Several people who live on Rockland but would not be identified said they were not surprised to see police surrounding the duplex, saying it was the scene of a fight last year and a steady stream of visitors at various hours of the day and night.
Two women who were waiting for police to let them into the house would not speak with a reporter.
"It's very scary knowing that people are not safe to be in this neighborhood," said Aimee Campbell, 35, a Brashear graduate who has lived on the steep street of single-family homes for about three years off and on. "I feel sorry for all those who were shot today. ... It's a shame. It's a tragedy."
Konstantino Constant, 24, a culinary student who served in the Marines, lives two houses down from the duplex, where heavily armed police in tactical gear were still milling about Wednesday night. He said he frequently chatted with an elderly couple who lived in the duplex.
He has lived on the street for nearly a year and has never seen any problems.
"It's normally pretty quiet," Mr. Constant said.
By 4 p.m., police stationed at Saw Mill Run Boulevard, which was heavily backed up, were questioning the drivers of vehicles trying to turn up Crane toward Brashear. If they were picking up students, officers let them pass.
"It's just a lot of sad people," one father said as he was heading away from the school, his distraught daughter crying in the seat next to him. "They were walking out and these three guys got out of the woods and just started shooting at them."
Speaking near the school around 5:30 p.m., Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the police response was "aggressive for good reason." He also said the worst seemed to be over.
"We have a handle on what appears to be an isolated, a targeted incident," he said.
City public safety director Mike Huss said just before 5 p.m. the scene was secure and officers were being sent back to their usual assignments.
Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto released a statement late in the afternoon saying those shot and their families were in his thoughts and prayers.
"I am pleased that none of the injuries appear to be life threatening, that several persons have been brought in for questioning, and I thank residents of the surrounding neighborhoods for their cooperation," Mr. Peduto said.
"While our officers were prepared for the worst," the statement continued, "we are very pleased that the shooting did not occur in the school or on school premises."
About 5 p.m., Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane issued a statement saying both Brashear and South Hills 6-8 will be open today but will be on a modified lockdown for the rest of the week. Only students, staff and visitors with scheduled appointments will be admitted to the schools.