Family of Virginia boy who was killed at graduation warned his school ahead of time, report shows

An 18-year-old student shot and killed last year after graduating from high school in Virginia was kept home for months out of fear for his safety, but was still found dead, according to a report released Wednesday. Was allowed to participate in the convocation ceremony.

The report, prepared by a law firm at the request of Richmond Public Schools, found that the decision to allow Shawn Jackson to attend Huguenot High School's commencement occurred despite rules that bar students from staying at home. Prevents you from participating in school-sponsored activities without permission. Or their designers.

Jackson and his stepfather, 36-year-old Lorenzo Smith, were shot and killed in June 2023 at the conclusion of graduation ceremonies outside Richmond's Altria Theatre, located on the outskirts of Virginia Commonwealth University. Police said five other people were wounded by gunfire, and at least 12 others suffered other injuries or were treated for anxiety caused by the mayhem. 

Amari Pollard, 19, who graduated with Jackson, is currently in jail awaiting trial on murder charges for Jackson's death.

Richmond Public Schools released a 29-page report as well as thousands of pages of supporting interview transcripts and documents investigating what happened. A judge ordered the release of the report Tuesday after the school board voted against making it public.

Reports indicate that Jackson's mother was so concerned about her son's safety that she emailed a counselor a week before the shooting asking if her son could skip graduation rehearsal practice. A school counselor advised the mother that "if you feel it is too dangerous" she would bring Jackson to the beginning without attending the required rehearsals.

Four months before the shooting, the mother sent an email complaining about security procedures when her son had to go to school in person to take a test.

"He was in class with people who literally tried to kill him," he wrote.

A year before the placeholder shooting, she had informed the same counselor and school principal that "we are still homeless because of the students shooting at our house in Huguenot."
In a phone interview, the former principal, Robert Gilstrap, said it was unfair in the report to blame him or the counselor for not allowing Jackson to attend graduation.

"In my years we were given the whole mission of, 'We need to get these kids graduated,'" said Gilstrap, now assistant superintendent at the Virginia Department of Education. He said his understanding is that the dispute between Pollard and Jackson was something that extended back to their freshman year, and he said he was not made aware that the mother had made any updates regarding her son's safety. Concern was expressed.

Gilstrap said she was not aware of the report's release until contacted by a reporter, and she objected to the report's description that she was "checked out" as principal during the graduation shooting because she was the second Was looking for a job.

"I worked there for eight years," he said. "I was the longest serving principal in Huguenot history."

According to the report, the counselor told investigators that she did not consult the principal before telling the mother that Jackson could attend graduation. However, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a reply memorandum that the school system believed Gilstrap had ceded the authority to make decisions on Jackson's participation in graduation ceremonies to the counselor.

The school system did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment about the report's findings. It issued a written statement saying, in part, "Our shared commitment is to learn from this tragedy and continue to improve to protect our students and staff. We have already taken several steps, including updating our policies That is who can authorize students to participate in a graduation ceremony."

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