Graduations marred by shootings sign of continuing gun violence in America

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(NEW YORK) — Just one week ago, an 18-year-old suspect allegedly gunned down 10 Black people at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in what authorities called a “racially motivated hate crime.”

A day later, a shooting at a Southern California church would leave one person dead, five others injured. The suspect, a 68-year-old man, was motivated by the political tension between China and Taiwan, the Orange County Sheriff’s office said this week.

In both cases, the FBI is said to be investigating the shootings for possible hate crimes.

But aside from those high-profile deadly shootings, a recent spate of violence has occurred at gatherings typically known to bring joy and celebration to children and parents alike — graduations.

There have been at least three shootings this week at graduation ceremonies across multiple states, none appearing to be at random.

An 18-year-old identified as Hasani Brewer was killed and a 17-year-old injured in a shooting Wednesday night as a crowd was leaving a Riverdale high school graduation ceremony being hosted on the Middle Tennessee State University campus.

Murfreesboro Police said the shooting stemmed from an altercation between Brewer and the teen near the on-campus arena when another 17-year-old opened fire. The alleged teen shooter was taken into custody Thursday and arraigned in juvenile court on a first-degree murder charge, according to police.

In Louisiana, chaos ensued Thursday night when shots rang out as family and friends were leaving the University Center at Southeastern Louisiana University’s campus after a Hammond high school graduation ceremony.

Hammond Police said three bystanders were shot after an argument turned into gunfire and another person was injured attempting to flee the scene. All the injuries were considered to be non-life threatening, according to police. No students were believed to be involved or among the injured.

“The sad thing is that people bring guns to events like this when it should be a joyous moment for people that have spent the last twelve years of their life, come to a graduation and all of a sudden we end up in a situation like this,” Hammond Police Chief Edwin Bergeron Jr. said during a press conference.

“[I’m] in disbelief that something like this could be happening at such a joyous occasion for these, you know, there was 280-something kids graduating,” Penny Lapre told ABC affiliate WBRZ-TV. “It was mass chaos,” Lapre said.

20-year-old Trent Thomas was arrested in connection to the shooting and faces three counts of attempted second-degree murder, possession of a firearm in a gun-free campus, and obstruction of justice, according to Southeastern Louisiana University Police Chief Michael Beckner.

And in Michigan, two people were injured Thursday when gunfire erupted in the parking lot of a high school campus hosting a graduation ceremony on its football field with 400 people in attendance.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office said a gun battle between two vehicles occurred in the parking lot following the end of a graduation for Crossroads Alternative High School students at East Kentwood High School. A 16-year-old male from Texas suffered a wrist wound and has since been released from the hospital. The vehicles involved had fled the parking lot. A 40-year-old Grand Rapids woman suffered wrist and abdomen injuries and remained hospitalized in critical, but stable condition, authorities said. The vehicles involved had fled the parking lot.

On Friday, the sheriff’s office said they had located the two vehicles involved, a white Hyundai sedan and a white Mercedes-Benz sedan. The Hyundai was found abandoned and still running behind a business in Grand Rapids. The car had bullet holes in it and was reported stolen from the city of Kentwood.

Later that day, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office announced they had detained five people in connection with the shooting following a traffic stop in Livonia, Michigan.

“It is believed that two of the individuals detained were involved with the shooting incident at East Kentwood. There is possibly a third individual as well, but we are awaiting further investigation by detectives on scene,” a statement said. Multiple guns were recovered.

The series of shootings at graduations adds to an ongoing alarming trend of gun violence in the United States. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 1,247 teens ages 12 to 17 were killed in 2021, and 3,381 others were injured.

So far this year there have been 487 teens killed in that same age group and 1,248 injured.

More broadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data this month showing gun homicides increased 35% across the country during the first year of the pandemic to the highest level in 25 years.

According to the new CDC study, firearm homicides increased 40% for those ages 10 to 24 in 2020 — the highest increases for people of color, notably Black males.

The rise in violence could be attributed to the social and economic pressures stemming from the pandemic that reinforced “longstanding” inequities between communities, the study noted.

“Longstanding systemic inequities and structural racism have resulted in limited economic, housing, and educational opportunities associated with inequities in risk for violence,” the authors of the study wrote, “the COVID-19 pandemic might have exacerbated existing social and economic stressors.”

The new CDC data confirms trends identified by ABC News as it studied data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive over the past year.

Back in Tennessee, a family and community is in mourning over the loss of their loved one.

“Always had a smile, always ready to joke, he was a prankster. He just had this light,” said Natalie Gant speaking at a vigil Thursday evening for her son, Hasani Brewer, also known as Sunny Gant, WKRN reported.

ABC News’ Med Unit contributor Eli Cahan contributed to this report.

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