"The tensions between the blacks and Puerto Ricans have been building up for a long time," Gonzales, 19, said yesterday. "One of my friends couldn't take it anymore and he exploded. One punch led to another and everybody got into it. It was a volcano that was just waiting to erupt."
Gonzales spoke from the parking lot of a nearby fast-food restaurant after being shooed away from the school by two of the many police officers who were positioned around the school at Front and Luzerne Streets in North Philadelphia.
The school day began with nine more students being arrested after a search of arriving students netted five knives, three screwdrivers and an icepick. A non-student was arrested on trespassing charges. Three more knives were found on school grounds, police said.
Otherwise - after a series of fights Tuesday and Wednesday's brawl - Edison was quiet yesterday as school officials, police, students, and city agencies tried to make sense of the violence: Was it triggered by a stolen gold chain? Or a stolen video game cartridge? Was it racially motivated? Or the result of gang rivalries? Is it over? Or just starting?
"High Class Lunatics, ATT, Dauphin Street Posse - a lot of those (gang) names are coming up and we're still trying to sort through the rubble," said Michael Harris of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, which meets weekly with Edison students.
Asked who was fighting whom, Edison principal Raul Torres said, "That's what we're still trying to figure out. We know that there were two males in the lobby and later on two females in the student cafeteria. Beyond that, we're still trying to put the puzzle together."
No one was injured in Wednesday's brawl. Close to 50 police officers responded to the fight, one of whom had his revolver knocked out of his holster. A student later returned it.
Students said the fight was prompted by two thefts earlier this week - a gold chain was taken from one Puerto Rican student, a video game cartridge
from another. In both cases the students accused black students.
While students said there have been on-again, off-again tensions between Puerto Rican and black students this year and last, school officials discounted reports that the brawl was a result of such tensions.
"There are some who continue to say this is a racial incident, and it is being investigated as such by the Human Relations Commission . . . But to the best of my knowledge we're talking about youth fighting and disagreeing in a physical manner and it is not basically a racial issue," Torres said.
Edison High School is about 70 percent Latino, 24 percent black, 5 percent white and 1 percent Asian.
"I don't think it was a racial thing," said Joseph "Mafia" Cespedes, an Edison student who also described himself as a member of the High Class Lunatics, several members of which took part in the fight. "It was really all over the (video game) tape. One guy was supposed to fight another guy after school."
He said the fight started early, though, when the two students - the cousin of the student who lost the game cartridge and the black student he suspected of taking it - came face to face in the cafeteria. "One came up and said, 'What's up?' and the other one said, 'What's up?' and they just started fighting."
"It was boys and girls. The girls was snatching earrings off each other. It was everything that had been gathering up from the beginning of the year and they just let it out," Cespedes, 16, said.
"It was just a free-for-all," he added. "There was Ricans fighting
Ricans. There was blacks fighting blacks. Everybody was just banging. It was fun . . . yeah, I call it fun."
Gonzales, who was listening, did not see it that way.
"That's some people's mentality - that it's a fun thing beating people up," said Gonzales. "It was very tragic and I just thank God that nobody got stabbed or killed."
Gonzales, a senior who is married and has a baby, said he was transferring out of the school Wednesday and got involved in the fight as he left.
"I defended myself two or three times, and I left the building, that's when officers approached me."
Gonzales praised the increased security at the school yesterday, including searching every fifth student with metal detectors. "They should do this every day," he said. He said racial tensions at the school are growing worse.
Several other students agreed.
"At the beginning of the year everybody got along, I don't know what happened," one girl said. "After that guy took the chain, blacks started looking at Ricans hard and Ricans started looking at blacks hard."
There was a heavy police presence as school was dismissed. Some students boarded SEPTA buses. Others drove off in their cars, rap music thundering from their stereos. Those who lingered were quickly dispersed by police officers.
Some concerned parents met with school administrators yesterday, while others, fearing more trouble, came to take children home early.
"I don't want her to get caught in the crossfire," said the mother of a ninth grader. "Bullets don't have no names on them." As she hustled her daughter into the back seat of her car, she added, "I don't know what's going on. Children just aren't the same today."