Families of students shot outside Pittsburgh Brashear High School try to understand

Wednesday afternoon outside Pittsburgh Brashear High School was not the first time violence touched Andrew Umphrey’s family.

He was one of four students police said were targets of Anjohnito Willet's bullets and one of three wounded. His mother was Andrea Umphrey, a choir director killed by gunfire after her estranged boyfriend kidnapped her and the couple’s baby daughter in 2004.

“I never thought I’d have to go through it again,” said Audrey Umphrey, 80, who is raising Andrew and her daughter’s two other children.

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)

Police said Anjohnito shot 17-year-old Andrew in the head, injuring him most severely. He remains hospitalized. Anjohnito also shot 15-year-old DaJour Jones in the left elbow and left foot and 17-year-old Robert "Eugene" Minor in the head, police said. 

DaJour was discharged Wednesday night from Allegheny General Hospital. Robert is expected to be released from UPMC Mercy today, police said.

Anjohnito also fired at -- but did not hit -- a fourth boy named Jaymon Eberhardt, according to a criminal complaint.

Ms. Umphrey said her grandson has a lot of pain and is expected to suffer long-term vision problems from the bullet. Although Andrew was only grazed, she said, the bullet damaged part of his brain affecting sight.

“He won’t be blind, but his sight won’t be like before,” Ms. Umphrey said.

The family learned of the shooting when someone from the school who was tending to Andrew used the teen’s cell phone to call his older brother, Andre.

“He just kind of like screamed," Ms. Umphrey said. "Then he came in and said, ‘Grandma, Andrew got shot, shot in the head,’“

Mr. Umphrey said he was able to speak with his brother by phone despite the young man’s injuries.

“He was talking to me for a while," Mr. Umphrey said. "He said he was good. I just told him, ‘Be strong.’“

Eugene's father this morning said his son was “pretty good” but that he was scared to return to Brashear.

“I think his head, he’s pretty good," Robert Minor said. "I don’t know overall. I’m not thinking it was the school’s fault or nothing, but I wouldn’t want to send him back to school being that [Anjohnito’s] from the area.”

He said a bullet was removed from his son’s head and doctors expect to release him from UPMC Mercy in two or three days.


In October, a fight

Pittsburgh police have said all three injured students were expected to survive. They also said they thought the shooting likely occurred because Anjohnito was seeking revenge for a drug-related robbery and assault that happened inside Brashear High School last month.

The Oct. 18 incident prompted Anjohnito to withdraw from Brashear, the city's largest high school, police said. He had not been back since.

Police said Andrew, DaJour and Robert were suspects in the assault, which was investigated by school police. Pittsburgh police major crimes unit Lt. Kevin Kraus said at a press conference Wednesday night that Anjohnito "declined to prosecute. He made remarks that he would take matters into his own account."

School district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said that Anjohonito was officially still a student at Brashear, but he had not been to school since Oct. 18.

“His parents had expressed interest in transferring him," Ms. Pugh said. "His parents were provided that paperwork, but it had not been submitted."

She said there was no truancy action taken.

“The school had been in communication with his family,” she said.

Mr. Minor confirmed that his son was involved in a fight last month with Anjohnito that resulted in his suspension for about a week. But he said his son was not the aggressor and he disputed the police characterization of the incident as being drug-related.

Mr. Minor also said the other two boys shot might have been present during the fight, but he said he did not believe they were directly involved.

“I know of the assault, but my son said there was no drugs and no robbery,” Mr. Minor said. “I think they had words that escalated to an assault. I don’t think [my son] started it.”

Mr. Minor said his son is 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds but is not a bully. Anjohnito is 6 feet tall and weighs about 170 pounds, according to court records.

The fourth boy, who was unscathed, is Eugene's cousin, Mr. Minor said.

Mr. Minor, 37, knows all too well the dangers of gun violence. He said he is a paraplegic from a 1995 shooting.

A news report at the time said he was shot in the back in Westgate Village when he was 19. Another man also was wounded in that shooting.

DaJour’s sister answered the door at the family’s house but said her mother was not home to comment and that her brother was recuperating.

His father, Arnold Jones Jr. of New Castle, said he had not yet spoken to his son.

“I told my son, ‘Don’t hang around with people who do bad things,’“ Mr. Jones said. “You hang around people involved in trouble, if you around you gonna get caught up in trouble.”

A woman at Jaymon’s house said the family was not doing interviews. And woman at the home next to Anjohnito's house yelled, "Goodbye!" when reporters identified themselves.

No one answered the door on the side of the duplex where Anjohnito lives.


Court documents add detail

Shortly before the shooting in Beechview, Anjohnito told a friend they needed to walk a boy home from school, according to court documents.

The 16-year-old suspect and the friend walked from Rockland Avenue, where Anjohnito lives, toward the school on Crane Avenue less than a mile away.

They took a shortcut, cutting through a wooded area.

The witness, who is not named in a criminal complaint, told police that when they came close to the end of the wooded area, a "large group of students" came into view.

Willet told the witness they no longer had to meet the third teenager and the witness began walking back toward Beechview, police wrote in the complaint.

"Witness 1 said that as he/she turned away from Willet they heard approximately 3 gunshots that were extremely loud and in very close proximity to them," police wrote. "Witness 1 further relayed that he/she immediately turned and looked towards Willet, who Witness 1 observed to now be in possession of a firearm and shooting towards Crane Avenue."

Pittsburgh police found Anjohnito when they surrounded his home on Rockland Avenue and one next to it shortly after the shooting, which was first reported at 2:50 p.m.

Early reports from witnesses to Allegheny County's 911 center incorrectly indicated there might have been a shooting at the school, and perhaps more than one shooter, drawing a response from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County police, the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and the ATF.

Anjohnito has been charged as an adult with four counts of attempted homicide, four counts of aggravated assault, four counts of recklessly endangering another person and a gun violation.

He was arraigned about 5 a.m. and is being held in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail, according to online court records.

His father declined comment as he left the police bureau's North Side headquarters about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday after questioning.


Brashear responds

School board member Sherry Hazuda, whose district includes the Brashear community, attended the meeting of teachers and administrators this morning at the high school.

She said teachers were encouraged to be out in the halls before school and between classes greeting students. Many do that anyway, but this was an "all hands on deck," Ms. Hazuda said.

As students arrived, Ms. Hazuda said, "The halls were lined with teachers."

Of the school's response Wednesday, Ms. Hazuda said, "Our principals and staff just did a phenomenal job."

Ms. Hazuda said the staff does practice for emergencies, but that's typically during the school day. This one, however, took place after school.

"It was a different challenge, but they did a nice job," she said. "... They just all went into action immediately."

District officials are sending letters home with Brashear and South Hills students today.

The Brashear letter, signed by co-principals Angel Washington and Kimberley Safran, thanks staff, students and families for "their support and ability to pull together during this difficult time."

The letter notes student assistance service providers will be available to help students for the rest of the week "and as long as we need it."

It states that a modified lockdown -- in which only students, staff and visitors with a scheduled appointment can enter the school -- will continue this week. All after-school activities are canceled today and Friday.

The letter clarifies some facts around the case, noting it happened off school grounds, Brashaer was never in a week-long lockdown, an annual pre-scheduled lockdown drill took place on Oct. 25 and an Oct. 18 incident is "still under City of Pittsburgh Police investigation to determine if it was connected to yesterday's incident."

The letter also gives ways parents can support their children, noting they may notice changes in the child's emotions or eating and sleeping patterns. It encourages parents to talk with their children about their emotions and the importance of good decision making.

"As we learn more about the events leading up to this incident, we are reminded how the decisions children make dictate the path that their lives will take. We know that children are faced with conflicting priorities and feel peer pressure to act in certain ways. Remind your child that there are some key questions they should ask prior [to] making decisions:1) Why do I want to do this?, 2) What are my options?, 3) How much trouble will I get in?, and 4) Is this decision in my best interests?"

A similar letter from South Hills principal Jacqueline Hale notes that all afterschool activities are canceled today and Friday at that school as well.


Students return

This morning along Crane Avenue in Beechview, a stream of vehicles rolled along steadily, many turning up the hill to Brashear and South Hills Middle School.

Police and school resource officers and their vehicles were stationed at both entrances.

In the hour or so before classes started, about a dozen students walked down Crane. Two students, who did not want to use their last names, talked about the shooting on their way inside.

Mickey, 14, a South Hills Middle eighth-grader who also takes a class at Brashear, said she's scared because the schools are close together.

"If it happened at a high school it could happen at South Hills Middle, too," she said. "And I just don't want that to happen."

Maddy, 14, a ninth-grader at Brashear, still seemed stunned.

"I just -- I don't know what's going to happen today," she said. "My family told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Tony, 16, a 10th-grader who didn't want to give his last name, said he was about 10 feet away from where the shooting happened. He said it sounded like "fireworks."

"It doesn't feel like it was real," he said. "... I wasn't really scared or anything, it was just like, 'Wow.'"

Ms. Pugh said 173 students of the school's 1,416 were absent at Brashear today, which she said is not unusually high.

Ms. Pugh said two counselors from Voices Against Violence, who are usually at the school, and four brought in from Mercy Behavioral Health were available for counseling at the high school today. An employee assistance plan counselor also was on site.

“They’ve counseled a few students,” said Ms. Pugh.

Ms. Pugh said superintendent Linda Lane and Brashear's two principals met with school staff to thank them for the efforts and the support they provided for students.

"As much as possible, we want school to feel like school as usual for students and there are supporters at the school in place for anyone who needs them, including staff and students," Ms. Pugh said.

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438; Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede; Jonathan D. Silver jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962. First Published November 14, 2013 8:30 AM


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