Elementary school students walk through homicide scene to get home

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 8:44 p.m. CDT; updated 10:33 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 23, 2014
James Gray, a volunteer chaplain at the MU Health System, directs children who just got off a school bus through the crime scene Tuesday to their home. Columbia Police Department Public Information Officer Latisha Stroer said a shooting occurred in the 900 block of West Texas Avenue and one man was killed.

COLUMBIA — Elementary school children were greeted with police tape as yellow as the school bus that took them home as they stepped from the bus into the scene of a fatal shooting Tuesday afternoon.

Columbia police found Derrick Brookins, 44, dead in an apartment building at 920 W. Texas Ave. on Tuesday. Another victim connected to the shooting, Darrius Edwards, 22, was taken by car to a nearby hospital with a gun shot wound that was not life-threatening.

Edwards was later charged with second-degree murder, according to court records. His bond is set at $1 million cash.

The homicide, the fourth in Columbia this year, is still under investigation by police.

Police taped off a large area of the street where they were looking for evidence in the homicide case, and some students were forced to go through the crime scene to get home. The bus driver pulled through the bus' normal stop at the intersection of West Texas and Sondra avenues once before she stopped and let the kids off after asking the police questions.

James Gray, a volunteer chaplain at the MU Health System, was at the scene supporting families who thought the victim was their relative, when he decided to help police guide the children across the caution tape to get home.

"The bus driver did the right thing," Gray said. "She said that the kids lived down the street and wouldn't let them get off the bus without knowing someone would make sure they got home safe."

The kids were frightened and asked what was going on, he said. The children hadn't learned of the shooting before they arrived at the scene.

"If you saw yellow tape and all these police cars around, would you be frightened?" Gray said. "It would frighten me as an adult."

The Police Department was the main source of cues for the School District when deciding whether or not to alert parents and students about the homicide, said Columbia Public School District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark. 

The teachers were notified of the incident, but because police had already been on the scene for almost two hours when students were released at 3:20 p.m., the area was not an imminent danger to kids coming home, Baumstark said. The nearest school, Parkade Elementary, located just more than a mile from the site of the shooting, was not put on lockdown.

"Our first priority is always student safety," Baumstark said. "This situation was not such where a lockdown was needed because there was no imminent threat."

The schools and bus systems have flexible contingency plans to evaluate responses to potentially dangerous situations, ranging from bad weather to traffic accidents. If the shooting was an imminent threat to the students, possible procedures could've included parent pick-up, delay of drop-off or moving the site of the stop temporarily, Baumstark said. None of these procedures were enacted Tuesday.

"You have to think about where else would the driver be able to drop them off safely," Baumstark said. "Is it safer to drop off if police are there or not? The stops are selected for a particular reason."

Gray has two children in middle and high school and has received text message alerts before for lockdown situations at their schools.

"There should've been an alert to schools so the bus wouldn't stop there or so parents could know to meet their kids at the bus stop," Gray said. "But, you never really know until the school bus gets there for what plan to use to deal with this."

Gray brought up the issues of neighborhood and school safety at the Mayor's Task Force meeting Wednesday.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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