FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The condition of the 15-year-old Cape Fear High School student who was wounded Monday in a shooting at school deteriorated Tuesday, authorities said.
Catilyn Abercrombie was in critical condition pending surgery at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, said Debbie Tanna, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. She has had trouble breathing and has been placed on a ventilator, Tanna said.
Abercrombie underwent surgery Monday night to remove a bullet from her neck and had been stabilized earlier Tuesday. She was nodding her head and blinking to respond to questions.
She was wounded Monday afternoon as she stood in a breezeway outside the school cafeteria.
A Cumberland County deputy who works at the school reported the shooting, telling a 911 dispatcher "she's barely breathing" as he examined her injuries.
The shooting marks Abercrombie's second brush with death. In March 2005, a car in which she was riding was hit by a drunk driver, killing her babysitter, but she suffered only minor injuries.
Fellow students charged
Two other Cape Fear High students were arrested Monday night and charged in the shooting.
A 15-year-old is charged with attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. He was in custody in the Cumberland County Juvenile Detention Center. He will face a juvenile court hearing sometime in the next week, but it was unclear Tuesday whether he might be tried as an adult.
"We'll wait till the investigation is complete before we make that decision on that young man," Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said.
Ta'Von McLaurin, 18, of 1408 Rhone St. in Fayetteville, is charged with felonious aiding and abetting. He made his first court appearance Tuesday afternoon and is being held in the Cumberland County Detention Center under a $280,000 secured bond.
Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said investigators don't think Abercrombie was the intended target, but no motive had been established.
"Why did they shoot? I don't know," he said.
A neighbor of McLaurin's, who declined to give her name, said she was "shocked" to hear of his arrest. She described him as a quiet, mannerly young man who lives with his mother, younger brother and younger sister and said she never knew him to be involved in any trouble.
A man who attended McLaurin's court hearing and is believed to be a relative said the teen has "good character."
"This is his first run-in with the law," said the man, who declined to give his name.
Butler said school security video showing two students carrying a .22-caliber rifle into Cape Fear High led to the arrests of McLaurin and the 15-year-old. The suspects were either in the hallway with the door open or outside the breezeway where Abercrombie was walking, he said.
Although Daisy, the manufacturer of the rifle, also makes pellet guns, Tanna said the weapon investigators found at the school was a traditional rifle.
Schools on edge, parents divided
Cape Fear High and nearby Mac Williams Middle School were on normal schedules Tuesday, and extra deputies were posted at the schools to help students and parents feel confident about their safety.
Both schools were locked down Monday afternoon as deputies combed the area for evidence in the shooting.
"I understand the fear, I understand the emotion, but I would encourage parents to send their kids back to school," Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till said Tuesday morning. "We have extra security. I believe the school is safe, and it will get them back to normal. Sometimes, getting back to normal after a trauma like this is the most important thing."
About one-third of the students at Cape Fear High and about 10 percent of Mac Williams Middle students were out of class Tuesday, Till said.
"The kids were edgy and scared to go back into that school, and I know how they feel. I was scared to come back," school bus driver Susie Melvin said after transporting only 17 of the usual 47 students on her route.
"(Students are) just kind of like down. Everybody's sad to lose a great person. Everybody's hoping she's OK," student Kristen Jackson said.
Mark Butsch said he planned to keep his two children home until he was convinced they would be safe at school.
"I decided not to send them to school today because of the threat of more violence," Butsch said.
Ken Johnson was among the parents who sent their children back to school Tuesday. He said he was confident that school leaders are doing everything they can to keep students safe.
"It sends the wrong message if I would have kept them from coming to school," Johnson said.
Cape Fear High reported 28 violent acts at school during the 2009-10 school year, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The rate of two violent acts per 100 students is average for Cumberland County schools.
Butsch and other parents said they believe the shooting is connected to a fight on campus last week, but investigators said they haven't found any connection.
"It's been building up to this for a while. My kids have come home and told me about it where there's been gang fights, flashing gang signs, calling each other out at school," Butsch said. "I think that girl was an innocent bystander."
Till said he doesn't think Cape Fear High has a gang problem.
"Are there some students who belong to gangs? Probably, there are some," he said. "Are they keeping their activity off campus? I believe they're probably keeping their activity off campus in general."
Likewise, investigators say there is no evidence of any gang connection to the shooting.
"As of right now, we don't have any reason to believe there was gang activity in the school that would have led to the shooting that happened," Tanna said.
While the high school has metal detectors, Butler said he didn't know if they were used on a daily basis. School officials did use the metal detectors Tuesday morning and said they would use them again Wednesday.
Till said the gun would not have been detected because the student was not in class.
"Even if we had metal detectors (Monday), the way the gun was hidden and not going into a building, we would have not detected it," he said. "The student had not been in class, so it wasn’t like this student was sitting in class with the rifle tucked in his pants."