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Shooting in VSU dorm was accidental, officials say, but students remain concerned

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Virginia State University campus

ETTRICK — A shooting Sunday evening at a Virginia State University dormitory was an accident, a university spokesperson said Monday. One person, who is not a student, suffered a non-life-threatening injury and does not plan to press charges against the person who fired the gun, she said.

But students, who are preparing to move off campus as the spring semester ends, remain concerned about safety after two school-related shootings this year and threats made this year against a number of historically Black schools.

“A lot of people come from hostile environments,” said Mekhi McKinney, 21, a junior at VSU. “This place is a second chance for you to be yourself.”

Around 8 p.m. Saturday, VSU and Chesterfield County police responded to a shooting at the Quad I Residence Hall, a four-story, red-brick residential building that houses freshmen and the university’s honors college. Officials placed the school on lockdown, which was lifted about two hours later.

The victim, an adult female, told police she knows the man who discharged the gun and that he is not a student, VSU spokesperson Gwen Williams Dandridge said. The victim said she will not press charges against him, Dandridge said.

Police have not located the man who fired the gun, and Dandridge declined to name the people involved. It’s unclear what led to firing of the weapon.

“Police say there is no further threat to the VSU campus community as it relates to this isolated incident,” Dandridge said Monday afternoon.

The woman was a friend of a VSU student, Dandridge said. While bringing a gun on campus does violate VSU policy, it does not break Virginia law. It’s illegal to bring a gun to a child care facility or a K-12 school. Chesterfield police referred questions to VSU.

It was the second instance of gunfire on or near VSU’s campus this academic year. In December, one VSU student shot and killed another after an argument, police said.

Isaac K. Amissah Jr., 21, was charged with murder in the killing of Daniel N. Wharton, 19, in the University Apartments at Ettrick, less than a mile from campus.

Also this year, bomb threats have been made against at least 36 historically Black colleges — about one-third of the nation’s HBCUs.

No threat has been made against VSU, but the university has stepped up its security anyway. It has hired about five new police officers, bringing the force up to 23. The department plans to hire six more.

Amid the threats against HBCUs, VSU revisited its operations plan and offered additional training to its faculty and staff.

The VSU campus is equipped with security cameras and a security system called Rave Mobile Safety that allows university officials to contact students, employees and family members by email or text message. On Sunday night, VSU sent three messages — one announcing the shooting and lockdown, a second telling students to continue to avoid campus, and a third when the lockdown lifted.

McKinney, the VSU junior, was inside Daniels Gymnasium for an awards ceremony Sunday night when everyone’s phone pinged. It was disheartening news, McKinney said Monday.

Some VSU students grew up in unsafe neighborhoods and consider the university their safe haven, he said. Still, McKinney said he feels safe on campus. McKinney, who studies sociology, was named Mr. Virginia State University, one of the school’s top awards for academics, character and contribution to the university.

Karenzo Hogue, 19, said it hurt to hear the threats against historically Black schools.

“We’re Black young men,” said Hogue, who studies management information systems. “Life’s always been challenging.”

Hogue lives in Quad II, across a grassy space from Quad I where the shooting occurred. He was in his room Sunday night when he got a text message from his residential adviser informing him of the lockdown. Then he saw the Rave alert on his email, and his cousin texted him.

Shootings, both intentional and accidental, have risen in greater Richmond in the past year. There were 101 slayings in the city in 2021, the most since 2004. Virginia Commonwealth University Health reported last year a surprisingly high number of gun accidents.

Hogue thinks it can be traced back to the pandemic and the impact it had on people mentally.

Tristan Cole, 19, lives in Quad I, but he wasn’t on campus Sunday night. A friend called, saying there had been a shooting and the university was on lockdown.

Later that evening, Cole still couldn’t get back on campus, so he went to his home in nearby Chesterfield for the night. VSU has only two entrances on campus for cars, but pedestrians can access it from other directions.

There are problems with violence everywhere, said Rose B. Coley, 65, an office manager and student coordinator who works at VSU who urged people to turn to God and the Bible. Sunday’s incident showed VSU was right to beef up its police force, she said.

“People aren’t safe anywhere,” she said.

ekolenich@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6109

Twitter: @EricKolenich

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Eric Kolenich writes about higher education, health systems and more for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the newspaper in 2009 and spent 11 years in the Sports section. (804) 649-6109

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