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Police: High school senior was 'still in his graduation cap' when a teen gunman killed him after the ceremony

Posted at 11:26 AM, Jun 07, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The teenager shot and killed moments after graduating from Huguenot High School in Richmond knew the person now charged with his murder, Interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards said in a Wednesday morning update on the deadly shooting.

Shooting victim Shawn Jackson, 18, of Richmond, and shooting suspect Amari Pollard, 19, of Henrico, had an ongoing dispute, Edwards said, without going into detail about their previous interactions, but did mention the importance of parents keeping tabs on their children's social media.

"You can sometimes see a blinking red light of an incident like this occurring because the disputes start on social media, and they're magnified," he said. "Where you can be disrespected in a school setting, and maybe 30 people see it, it if it's online, thousands of people see it and that's how we can get to this point over what would typically be a trivial matter."

Pollard attended Tuesday's graduation at the Altria Theater, police said.

Police said after the ceremony, Pollard went to his car to get a gun and then opened fire outside the theater.

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"I wouldn't say he was waiting for him. I think there was an interaction and then it appears that the suspect went to his car to retrieve the gun and then returned," Edwards said on Wednesday.

Jackson and his stepfather, Renzo Smith, 36, were killed.

Five other people suffered gunshot wounds and are expected to survive.

Edwards said Pollard was not someone known to police before Tuesday's shooting.

"He had very little interaction with us; [he] was not a convicted felon, not a person on our radar. So that's one of the reasons it's very surprising that this escalated the way it did," Edwards said. "He would not have been able to purchase a handgun himself, due to his age."

'The Life of the Party'

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said he didn't know Shawn personally, but shook his hand on the graduation stage about 20 minutes before he was killed.

"Those who did know Shawn described him as bubbly and the life of the party," he said.

He also offered some insight into the slain student.

"Getting to the graduation stage was not easy for Shawn. Nonetheless, he did it. And he was rightly proud, smiling, and celebrating like all of his peers," Kamras said Wednesday. "Then just a few minutes later, while enjoying the moment with his family in Monroe Park, he was gunned down. I can't shake the image of him receiving CPR on the ground, still in his graduation cap."

Richmond's school leader offered support to students traumatized by the gun violence and encouraged them to call the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority crisis support line at 804-819-4100.

He also called on state and city leaders to do more to help stop gun violence.

"Let's not make this a red issue or a blue issue. Can't we just make it a child issue? Can't we agree that we all love our children and we need to do better by them," he said. "We need fewer guns on our streets. We need more mental health support for our children. We need more help from the state and the federal government on education, health care and housing."

Kamras said Richmond's remaining high school graduations would happen at a later date at the individual schools and not the Altria Theater.

Suspect in Court

Pollard was arraigned Wednesday morning on two counts of second-degree murder, said Colette McEachin, Richmond’s top prosecutor, in an email to The Associated Press.

She added that Pollard said he intends to hire an attorney, so the case was continued until a hearing later this month.

Pollard was ordered held without bond. Court records did not yet list an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

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