Stray bullet strikes Camden school bus

A girl is carried away from a school bus that was hit by gunfire in Camden. The shooter was still at large.
A girl is carried away from a school bus that was hit by gunfire in Camden. The shooter was still at large. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 14, 2013

CAMDEN A stray bullet, apparently fired during a gang confrontation, struck a school bus in Camden on Thursday afternoon, frightening a busload of 27 preschool children.

One mother reported that her young son suffered a burn mark on his back from a shard that came from the bus window that was shattered. The bullet lodged in the ceiling of the bus, according to authorities.

The child, who was not identified, was treated at a hospital, Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said during a 6 p.m. news conference outside police headquarters.

Thomson said the shooting was gang-related and called the at-large shooter a "public enemy." He said a $20,000 reward was being offered for tips leading to his arrest.

"This guy is Public Enemy No. 1," Thomson said. "He clearly displayed sociopathic behavior by firing a rifle in broad daylight in a densely populated area, with an oncoming bus full of children. . . . We need to get him off the streets."

Thomson said the bus was carrying pupils between the ages of 3 and 5, and was leaving the Centerville Abbott Head Start school at 1475 S. Eighth St. to make a series of drop-offs.

Just after 3 p.m., a man he described only as "a black male wearing a black hooded sweatshirt" walked south on Phillips Street, near Ninth Street and Ferry Avenue, wielding a semiautomatic rifle.

Thomson said the man started firing east, the first of what would be 14 rounds, toward the Branch Village housing project.

While the man was firing into the project, at least 100 yards away, Thomson said, the school bus was struck by one of the rounds.

"We believe [the shooter] was trying to send a message to a rival gang member," Thomson said.

The rifle used at the scene was not discarded. He said the area was known by police for recent strife between gangs and individuals.

School officials were shaken by the shooting.

"We were on our way on the afternoon route with the children following a school day when the incident happened and something hit the bus, what we believed to be gunshots. Everyone is OK," said Merilee Rutolo vice president for the Center of Family Services, which offers Head Start services. "We're just working to ensure every child is delivered back to their family."

H.B. Wilson Family School and Cream Elementary, both in the vicinity of where the shots were fired, went on lockdown from 3:15 to 4:20 p.m. until the last student left with their parent, said Lindsey DeHaan, a communications consultant with the district.

The scene was especially chaotic for the schools because the shots rang out at the beginning of dismissal.

"All students who were outside were ushered inside," said the newly hired Camden schools superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard. "School security did a perimeter sweep."

Just after 4 p.m., the scene outside the Branch Village houses still was one of pandemonium. Parents stood holding on to children and stared at the school bus that was parked - behind police tape - with its emergency lights on near the corner of Ninth and Ferry.

"This is just ridiculous," said Jeanine Freeman, 50, a grandmother of four who has lived at Branch Village for three decades and was in the crowd. "We just had a 17-year-old shot here last month. Now this."

Freeman said she heard shots ring out just after 3 p.m. "I see the bus pull over and figured something happened with it. I just went on the March to Washington to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. They need to have a march on Camden."

Thomson urged anyone with information to call the Citizens' Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley at 215-546-TIPS.

Contact Julia Terruso at 856-779-3876, @juliaterruso or

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