Family mourns father and son killed in HS graduation shooting, as police name suspect

RICHMOND, Va.Dressed in shirts of their son, Renzo Smith and his wife swelled with pride as they watched their 18-year-old graduate from high school after overcoming challenges in class.

“I was very proud of him,” Tameeka Jackson-Smith said of her son, Shawn Jackson. “He was struggling in school, and he came back and he did it.”

Then, moments later, the celebration was abruptly interrupted when gunshots rang out at Virginia Commonwealth University, scattering hundreds of people from the crowd that had gathered on campus for the graduation ceremony. graduates from Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia.

The new graduate and his father were killed Tuesday night, and five others were injured, police said.

In the chaos, the couple’s 9-year-old daughter was hit by a car but survived, Jackson-Smith said.

On Wednesday, the mother struggled to speak through tears.

His sister, Datrell Glover, said Renzo Smith, 36, was an army veteran, always provided for his family and had a “heart of gold”.

Renzo Smith served in the Army Reserve from 2005 to 2006 as a motor transport operator before serving in the Regular Army from 2006 to 2010, Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and held the rank of specialist when the service ended, Dubee said.

Glover said his nephew was loved by his sisters and cousins ​​and “had a smile that would light up a room.”

Father and son were “very close,” Glover said, adding that both parents helped their son improve his grades in time to graduate.

Renzo Smith was “so happy and proud” of his son’s accomplishment, Glover said, that the parents had custom-made shirts prepared for the ceremony.

“We try to be as strong as possible,” she said. “That’s all I can say at the moment.”

On Wednesday, police identified the suspect as 19-year-old Amari Pollard. The suspect and Jackson had an ‘ongoing argument’ over the past year and had a verbal confrontation shortly before the shooting, acting Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards said during an interview. a press conference.

Edwards said the suspect was there to attend the graduation as a guest. After the interaction with Jackson, the suspect allegedly drove to his car to retrieve a handgun and returned, Edwards said.

Pollard, arraigned Wednesday morning, has been charged with at least two counts of second-degree murder and is being held without bond, Edwards said.

Renzo Smith, 36, and Shawn Jackson, 18.  (Courtesy of the Jackson-Smith family)

Renzo Smith, 36, and Shawn Jackson, 18. (Courtesy of the Jackson-Smith family)

The shooting took place at 5:13 p.m. outside the theater after the graduation ceremony, authorities and school officials said.

Stephanie Rizzi, president of Richmond Public Schools, representing the 5th District, said she heard the gunshots but prayed the sounds were fireworks amid the celebrations.

“We were applauding. Everyone was excited and happy, and they entered this world of violence,” she said. “It was just amazing and surreal.”

Rizzi said he saw Jackson take his last breath as he lay on the floor, still in his graduation gown.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said that image was etched in his mind. About 20 minutes before his death, Jackson had just walked across the scene and shook hands with the superintendent, Kamras said.

“I can’t understand,” he said. “Graduations are a time of joy, of celebration, of smiles, of accomplishment. All of that was snatched away from our children when those gunshots erupted.

Aaron Gilchrist reported from Richmond and Melissa Chan from New York.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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