Two assailants opened fire Tuesday afternoon at a school bus stop in northeast Las Vegas, sending six people to the hospital in what might have been a dispute over a girl, police said.
Two of the victims remained hospitalized at University Medical Center, one in critical condition, while suspects in the shooting at Alexander and Walnut roads remained at large.
"This is not a random act," Sheriff Doug Gillespie said at an evening news conference. "We are looking at this as someone who was there for a particular individual or individuals."
The two assailants were waiting at the bus stop about 2 p.m., and they began firing shortly after students exited two buses, police said.
One witness, a Mojave High School freshman, said he was about 30 yards from his bus stop when he heard pops that sounded like firecrackers.
"I looked back and saw him holding a gun," he said of an assailant he described as a young black male. "I heard people yelling, screaming," said the 14-year-old, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. "These people next to me got shot. They were laying on the ground. ... I heard bullets flying past me."
Police think the shooting was in response to an altercation between students at Mojave High School earlier in the day. Three students were arrested by school district police in the morning after the fight. Police suspect the youngsters were fighting over a girlfriend.
Preliminary evidence does not point to the shooting being gang-related, police said, but the gang unit was investigating the shooting scene.
The 14-year-old witness said a fight had occurred at the bus stop Monday between black and Hispanic teens who he thinks are gang members.
"There are so many gangs out here, I can't even count them all," he said.
He said that shortly after stepping off the bus Tuesday afternoon, he saw a group of Hispanic teens walking toward a smaller group of black teens.
He figured the Hispanics were there to protect their friend who had been beaten up Monday at the bus stop. The groups had not reached each other when he saw one of the black teens start shooting.
The gunfire erupted in a middle-class, residential neighborhood just blocks away from Woolley and Clyde Cox elementary schools. The schools were locked down until about 2:45 p.m.
Police said that they had a "general description" of suspects, who ran away after the shooting.
Taken to UMC with gunshot wounds were a teenage girl, three teenage boys and two young men. At least four of the victims were Mojave students.
By evening, all but two had been released from the hospital. Alex Rios, 18, remained in critical condition, and Mark Smith, 17, was in stable condition. Both had been shot in the torso.
"It appears, God willing, that they might make it," said Brian Rogers, vice president of operations for MedicWest, the ambulance company that took the victims to UMC.
"I'm just appalled at these gangs," said Calvin Smith as he waited nervously for his son to be released from UMC after the shooting. "How do they get their guns? They don't care who they shoot."
The casino security guard said his son, a Mojave senior, is a good kid who always goes straight home on the bus after school to play video games. Mark wants to enter the Air Force after graduating from high school, his father said.
Smith had been told that his son had been shot in the stomach and was undergoing surgery.
"I'm not going to be really relieved until I see him. You don't know until you see for yourself," he said.
Rosalind Hernandez held her head in her hands as she choked back tears in the lobby of UMC while she too waited for an update from doctors. She has been Rios' caretaker since the teen's mother moved to Los Angeles.
Rios had dropped out of Mojave High School and was working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hernandez said.
The neighborhood around the high school is just getting worse and worse, she added. Rios was "threatened over the Internet yesterday, and today he was just (at the bus stop) waiting for his friends to come home from school, and he somehow was in the line of fire," Hernandez said.
Sgt. Phil Gervasi, president of the Police Officers Association of the Clark County School District, said that the shooting was the valley's most violent school-related incident in his 15 years on the school police force.
"This is the worst," Gervasi said.
The shooting was at least the fourth tied to students and school buses in the past two years.
In September 2006, a 17-year-old Canyon Springs High School student opened fire on a bus after several students yelled the name of a rival gang. A girl was hit in the chest with a bullet fragment.
Teren Evans was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison for the shooting.
Three weeks later, a 14-year-old Legacy High School student was shot in the leg after stepping off a school bus. Authorities said she was the unintended victim of 16-year-old Michael Johnson, who has been charged as an adult with attempted murder. His case is pending.
In November 2005, several bullets hit a bus carrying magnet program students near Bridger Middle School. The driver suffered minor cuts from flying glass, but no one was seriously hurt. North Las Vegas police said at the time the shooting appeared to be random.
At Mojave, the school district will take immediate measures to ensure safety, said Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes.
Gates are going up at parking lot entrances to prevent cars from entering and exiting as easily as they have in the past. Additional police also will be on the Mojave campus and on the campuses of neighboring schools, Rulffes said.
Additional counselors will be at Mojave to help students who want to talk about the shootings, Rulffes said.
"Students will be safe in their travels to and from school," he said.
Mojave, which is in North Las Vegas, had some 2,300 students last year, and is one of the larger high schools in the school district's northeast region, according to the school district.
Gillespie said he knew parents would be asking, "Is it safe to send my kids to school tomorrow?"
He continued, "I am a father, I have a daughter, and she will be attending school tomorrow."
Review-Journal writers Brian Haynes and Lisa Kim Bach contributed to this report. Contact reporter Beth Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702)383-0279. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at email@example.com or (702) 383-4638.