By Paul Nielsen and Justin Vick
MATTHEWS – Police are investigating a fatal shooting this morning at Butler High School.
The Matthews Police Department told reporters the shooting happened prior to school as a result of a fight between two students. One student was taken to the hospital but died. The other has been arrested.
Police arrested 16-year-old Jatwan Craig Cuffie on charges of first-degree murder. Police identified Bobby McKeithen as the shooting victim.
“We’re incredibly saddened by the fact that we had a loss of life on one of our campuses today,” Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said. “What makes it doubly difficult is it was one of our students who was the shooter. So our hearts go out to the larger community and to all the young people who witnessed this tragedy today. There were many kids in the hallways where this took place.”
Wilcox explained CMS has worked hard on school security over the last several months. He said CMS will review its security plan and “perhaps we will have to do some things that are a little more aggressive.”
Wilcox tried to steer the focus back on the families and children, but a reporter pressed him on the system failing due to a child bringing a gun to school.
“We don’t actively search every bag that comes into school each and every day,” Wilcox said. “I will tell you that from one perspective, yes, we failed.
“I don’t really know what really took place. I don’t know how a young person gets a handgun in the state of North Carolina, but we are going to look at all those things, and we will do our best to make sure that this never happens again.”
Butler High junior Owen Danner was in the gym at the time of the shooting. Danner said the shooting occurred following a fight between the victim and the suspect. He had known the victim since the sixth grade.
“There was a fight and the person that lost brought a gun and shot him in the back as he was walking away,” Danner said. “It’s crazy.”
Danner spent about 90 minutes in the boys’ locker room next to the gym before students were released. Danner said teachers kept students calm while the school was on lockdown.
“They just locked the doors. We didn’t know what was going on,” Danner said. “When I found out, I thought ‘this is just crazy.’ People were freaking out and parents were rushing to the school. It was chaos.”
CMS posted an alert about Butler being on lockdown on Facebook at about 8:30 a.m. By then, the shooter has been arrested, but police were not letting anyone on campus.
“Law enforcement has advised that there is no further immediate danger at this time and initial investigation shows this to be an isolated incident,” the post said, noting parents were advised via phone calls.
Butler High School freshman Joshua Cherry sent a video to WBTV News that showed students congregating in the lobby and yelling “let us out.”
“Butler High School is not letting us leave,” someone said just prior to the entrance doors opening. “A kid was shot. A kid was shot. They want us to go to class. Kids are crying. It’s a mess.”
Law enforcement lifted the lockdown an hour later and began letting parents pick up students from the entrance of the campus. Classes continued for those without a ride home. Wilcox said classes continued to arrange transportation for students. The school will be closed Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Several prominent leaders have shared their thoughts on the shooting.
“I am heartbroken to hear about today’s school violence that has taken the life of a high school student in Matthews, and my family is praying for this community,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “I have been in touch with local officials to offer condolences and state support as needed. As we get more information it is critical that we come together to do everything in our power to prevent these incidents from happening and keep guns out of our schools.”
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted her support for the community while at a conference in Detroit.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of today’s tragic killing of a student at Butler High School,” Lyles wrote. “I am devastated by another heartbreaking loss of life and my thoughts are with the students and families who have been affected. My heart is with all of you during this time of sorrow.”
Mayor Paul Bailey said, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic events at Butler High School this morning. I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of this young man, and to everyone affected at Butler High School. Our hearts are with you, and the community stands behind you. This is a very sad day here in Matthews.”