JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As a 17-year-old student fought for his life Wednesday morning after being shot in the chest while walking to his bus stop, his classmates, their parents, and city and school district leaders wrestled with the aftermath of the violence.
Jacksonville police said the teen, who goes to Westside High School, was walking on Lane Avenue around 6:15 a.m. when a black car pulled up and someone inside opened fire. The teen, who was identified as Javon Mills by his father, was shot in the chest but managed to make it to his bus stop, and the driver quickly got him to a fire station, where paramedics rushed him to a hospital in critical condition.
Duval County School Board Chair Paula Wright said the superintendent immediately sent the crisis team to Westside High School so counselors and social workers would be available for students.
"Helping the school to understand what happened, helping the students to grieve and, more importantly, providing them the mental health opportunities that the students would need," Wright said. "My heart goes out, again, to the student who is fighting for his life and to his family."
Both Wright and Dr. Diana Greene, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, said the district will provide whatever support the student's family needs.
Since Greene started as superintendent on July 1, there was a deadly triple shooting minutes after the end of a football game at Raines High School and then Wednesday morning's shooting of a student walking to his bus stop.
When Greene spoke to reporters later on Wednesday, she said that the violence is not shocking, but she hopes she never becomes desensitized to these situations.
"I’m very fortunate in my experience as a superintendent at another school district, and I’ve dealt with tragedy and violence with students," she said. "So it’s not new, it’s just I don’t want to ever get used to it. I want to continue to do what I can to ensure that we work as hard as we can as a school district to deter any opportunity for students to be harmed by senseless violence."
The superintendent said collaboration among agencies, including the Jacksonville's Sheriff's Office, is key.
"The agencies we are collaborating with, I value the cooperation we have in our communication -- whether it’s (with) the mayor's office or JSO. So that's very strong," she said. "The issue now is we’ve got to bring our community together and help solve this issue of violence."
The superintendent encouraged community members, whether they have children in school or not, to get involved with students to keep them busy, especially in the hours after school.
Greene said she went to Westside High soon after she learned of the shooting Wednesday morning. She said she wanted to make sure the school knew it had her support.
The good news, she said, was that the school day went on as normal and that there was support available for any students who may be struggling to deal with what happened. She said the students who were on the bus were also provided with whatever they needed, whether that was food or someone to talk to.
Westside High students describe emotional school day
Though classes went on as scheduled at Westside High, students were shocked and upset, with many saying they don't feel safe.
Students who know Javon described him as "quiet" and "chill."
"He doesn't mess with nobody," said a Westside High senior named Zee. "It makes me feel like we're not safe anymore. I don't even want to ride the bus no more."
The shooting hit close to home for the injured teen's classmates, including Allen Washington, who said the teen is “a cool person” who hasn't been in trouble.
"It makes me fearful for a lot black people that's just walking around, because you can get shot anywhere,” Washington said.
Students were fed up, frustrated and scared, saying violence has become all too common for them and they're worried it's only getting worse.
"I mean, I don't feel safe nowhere," said a Westside High senior named Tee Tee. "Anything could happen."
Duval County School Board member Scott Shine said the students shouldn't have to fear violence.
"We know this is wrong, and we have a big problem in Jacksonville," Shine said. "We have an out-of-control gun violence situation in the city. More has got to be done."
Overall, students said, it was an emotional and tense day at school, with crisis counselors and extra police on campus.
When school let out Wednesday afternoon, school district officers could be seen standing guard.
Community tired of violence
The mother of a 14-year-old student who was on the bus said the school called to let her know her son was OK, but she was so shaken up at the thought of what her son had seen, she decided to pick him up from school.
“When I knew he was here, I was on my way,” Keywaon Stewart said. “I just don't feel like his mind is going to be on work after seeing a child bleeding like that.”
Stewart said she'd like for her son to speak to a counselor at the school Thursday, and that he won't be riding the bus.
“I'll probably just bring him into school tomorrow, just because it's too soon,” Stewart said. “Being that it didn't happen on the bus makes me feel a little more at ease, but it doesn't feel right that the students are walking to go to school and someone is literally shooting early in the morning at students. It doesn't make sense to me.”
A neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was getting ready for work when he heard gunfire outside his home.
"For you to wake up to gunshots and to have a kid that's going to school shot, going door to door, trying to get some attention, trying to get whoever is up to give him some help -- that's ridiculous," he said.
A witness who saw the aftermath at the fire station said he's tired of the violence involving children.
"Parents, you are killing your children," Roderick Dorsey said. "You can't let your children do what they want to do, because the streets are going to do something to them."
A Westside High School parent echoed that sentiment.
"It's broad daylight, kids coming to school to learn, and for this stuff (to happen), it's unacceptable," Winston LaBranch said. "Kids' lives are in danger. It's ridiculous. We're living in a time now where people just want to hurt each other instead of resolving things and just resort to violence. It's just got to stop."
Community members said action needs to be taken to stop the violence, especially among teenagers.
"Sit down, have these town hall meetings. Sit down with the whole community and try to come up with some kind of solution because, after a while, it's going to get terrible," Dorsey said. "It's already out of control."
City Councilman Terrance Freeman said his heart goes out to the family of the injured student and the students on the bus.
"Once again, we have kids in our community that are experiencing these tragic events and are having to process it and try to deal with it on their own," Freeman said. "I’ve heard they have (counseling) teams here that are going to help them. And I continue to pray for them and pray for our city as a whole."
Police did not have any description of the shooter.