A graduating senior and his stepfather were murdered by a 19-year-old mass shooter on Tuesday evening. Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears arrived at a local press conference and immediately used the tragedy to blame the shooting on local officials, gang violence – but not guns.
Two people were killed and several others were injured in a mass shooting following Huguenot High School’s graduation ceremony on Tuesday evening near Richmond’s Altria Theater.
The two victims have been identified as a Huguenot graduate and his stepfather. The 19-year-old suspect has been identified as Amari Ty-Jon Pollard. He was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in both the deaths of 18-year-old Shawn Jackson and of Jackson’s stepfather, 36-year-old Renzo Smith. Additional charges against Pollard are expected.
Tuesday’s violence was the second shooting this year at a Richmond public school event. In April, 18-year-old David Gutierrez was charged with shooting and injuring two of his fellow students at George Wythe High School.
Local officials quickly responded to the shooting with horror and outrage.
Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras, who was attending the graduation, pleaded for the violence to end.
“This is supposed to be a joyous day when our kids walk the stage and get their diploma, which is what they all did here for Huguenot today,” Kamras said. “I’m just tired of seeing people get shot and I beg of the entire community to stop – to just stop.”
“This is tragic, but also traumatic because this is their graduation,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at a press conference after the shooting. “The question that comes to mind right now is: Is nothing sacred any longer?”
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears, who briefly represented part of Hampton Roads in the state House about 20 years ago, arrived at the scene of the Richmond tragedy to comment on the shooting. Earle-Sears, a military veteran who became notorious for a campaign poster featuring her brandishing an assault-style rifle, assigned blame for the violence to local Democratic officials and gang violence – but not guns.
Claiming that Richmonders are “not safe in this city,” Earle-Sears wondered: “Who is in charge – is that the mayor, is that the chief, who is that? I mean, let’s start naming names. Because otherwise, if no one is accountable, if all we do is come in front of a camera… and keep talking about, ‘oh, this shouldn’t happen, and that shouldn’t happen.’ Well, you’re the one in charge. You’re the one responsible.”
“This is not about law-abiding gun owners, this is about gangs,” she further claimed.
Democrats were swift to rebuke the lieutenant governor’s characterization of the shooting.
Saying that Earle-Sears had “hijacked an informational police press conference,” state Sen. Scott Surovell accused her of using the event to “attack Democrats instead of console victims in hospital fighting for their lives.”
House Minority Leader Don Scott Jr. tweeted: “This gaslighting and political pandering by a LT. GOVERNOR who LITERALLY campaigned holding a picture of an assault rifle is lecturing others on preventing gun violence. She runs out to the scene with no empathy for the victims just thinking of how to appeal to MAGA” – a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
House and Senate Democrats also responded to the shooting by calling for improved gun safety policies in Virginia.
“Yesterday should have been a day filled with celebration and, instead, we are mourning our community’s loss,” said Henrico-area Delegate Rodney Willett. “Last session, we introduced more than 15 commonsense solutions that would have kept our communities safe. Republicans voted down almost every one. It’s past time for action – we have a duty to step up and protect Virginia families and communities.”
“Mass shootings are preventable, and anyone who insists that guns are not part of the problem is doing a disservice to themselves and the public,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mami Locke. “This tragedy is only the latest sign that legislators at every level need to do more to pass gun safety measures that will keep our communities safe and get guns off our streets. Senate Democrats are ready to take action.”