Brockton school staff kept cool heads in wake of shooting

Maureen Boyle

Basketball coach Nicholas Lee was on the far side of the center gym court at the high school when he heard students yelling behind him.

The three gym courts were packed at the time. Girls were trying out for varsity and junior varsity basketball on one side. Boys were trying out for basketball on the center court. Members of ROTC were working out on yet another court. People were inside the gym, watching. More were in the foyer.

“All the kids started running to my end of the gym. They said a kid had been shot,” Lee said.

Lee, a Brockton High School junior varsity coach, ran toward the shooting scene. So did coach Mike Bolger, who was dialing 911 for help. Other coaches and staff also rushed off the courts and out of offices.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Lee said. “No one did at that point.”

A 17-year-old high school dropout was on the floor in the left court, his legs bleeding.

Lee didn’t see him at first. The curtain separating the courts was partially drawn.

“I just saw feet,” he said.

Jeri Connor, the athletic trainer, was tending to the wounded teen, who was conscious. So was a parent.

Sharon Wolder, a housemaster, was working in the red building for an after-school English as a Second Language program when some students rushed in. It took a second for what they were saying to sink in — someone was shot.

Throughout the country, there have been school shootings, educators and staff at Brockton High knew. There was Columbine High School in Colorado, where 13 were killed in 1999. There was the middle school in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998 where five people were killed. Even in Massachusetts, there were shootings. In Acushnet to the south, a school nurse was killed in 1993 when a gunman with a history of mental problems walked into a middle school. And there have been several cases of shootings and shots fired near schools in Boston in recent years.

Between 1999 and 2006, 116 students have been killed at schools throughout the country, with 65 percent of them involved in shootings. There have been even more non-fatal cases.

But at Brockton High School, despite the gang violence on the city’s streets, there had never been a shooting on the campus in its 39-year history.

School has been a safe haven for the more than 4,000 students, said Susan Szachowicz, BHS principal.

“That is what makes this so different and upsetting,” she said. “Now that safe haven wasn’t safe.”

Wolder said there was an unwritten rule, even among the most streetwise students who led a different life outside the classroom.

“School has always been off-limits,” she said.

That longstanding street edict was broken last Wednesday evening. And, school officials say, it appears it was broken by people who don’t even attend the school.

Linanel Brown-Madison, 17, had dropped out of school last October and faced a gun charge a month later. He moved from Brockton to Roxbury, then to Quincy.

Last Wednesday evening, he was back in Brockton and at the high school to watch the basketball tryouts.

He would tell police he was walking out of the gym when he saw someone with whom he was acquainted.

The person asked him if he had a “problem.” Brown-Madison told him no and kept walking.

Another person then came up to Brown-Madison. The other person had made a phone to “to his boys.”

Brown-Madison told police he didn’t think anything of it.

Then, about 10 minutes later, he was approached by the first person. They walked to the lobby. A minor scuffle ensued and was broken up. The two, Brown-Madison told police, then went outside for a “fair” fight.

Brown-Madison stepped outside and saw the three people standing at the bottom of the concrete stairs.

One reached into his waistband and, with his right hand, pulled out a gun.

There was a brief pause.

Brown-Madison turned and bolted up the stairs.

The gunman opened fire. He fired at least six times.

Brown-Madison was shot in both legs.

He made it inside and to the gym.

The school staff scrambled to tend to the teen, calm students and keep everyone, and potential evidence, in place.

Szachowicz said the response by those in the gym that night was remarkable.

“People rose to the occasion and showed grace under pressure,” she said. “ It was about protecting kids and taking charge.”

Once the situation was under control, the coaches knew the best way to keep the basketball players focused and calm.

“I blew the whistle and got them back on track,” Lee said.

And the players pulled the curtain to separate the courts and resumed playing.

“It was very calm at the gym because of the work of everybody there,” Szachowicz said.

Maureen Boyle can be reached at mboyle@enterprisenews.com.