A star football player was slain and two other students were seriously wounded in an inner-city high school here Thursday, in one of the worst incidents of violence to date in the deeply troubled Detroit public school system, where shootings and the carrying of guns by students have become common.
Chester Jackson, a 17-year-old junior running back at Murray-Wright High School, died after he was shot in the head in the high school's parking lot by another student, according to police and school administrators.
Apparently, shortly before he killed Jackson, the same student shot Jackson's friend, Damon Matthews, an 18-year-old basketball player, in the face in the school's gymnasium. A third victim, 18-year-old Tomeka Teamer, also was wounded, apparently in the school's corridors as the attacker fled the building.
Jackson was declared dead at Detroit Receiving Hospital, a hospital spokesman said. Matthews was listed in serious condition at Detroit Receiving; the nature of Teamer's wound could not be determined because she rejected treatment and was released, police said.
Detroit police did not release the name of the teen-ager being held for questioning in the case, but school officials confirmed that he is a ninth-grader at Murray-Wright, which is situated on Detroit's near west side.
Although police said they had no motive in the case, several Murray-Wright students said the shootings may have been an outgrowth of an earlier fight.
Jackson was a 5-foot-9, 170-pound running back on a Murray-Wright team that won Detroit's Central League title the season before last. Murray-Wright students said that Jackson had been widely expected to receive a college football scholarship, giving him a way out of his depressed neighborhood.
'He Was That Good'
"Chester could have gotten a scholarship easy, he was that good," said Vernon Wilkerson, a Murray-Wright senior.
Thursday's shootings were the latest in a wave of teen-age violence that has gripped Detroit's crumbling inner city for years. Despite random weapons searches that have been imposed in high schools and even some middle schools by administrators, and despite the stationing of Detroit police officers in the corridors of every high school in the city, authorities have been unable to slow the violence, in which hundreds of juveniles have been shot throughout Detroit. In 1985, for example, 236 youths under the age of 16 were shot in the city, 28 of them fatally, according to statistics compiled by the Detroit Free Press.
Even last fall's dramatic appeals by Detroit Pistons basketball star Isiah Thomas, who toured the city's most troubled high schools asking teen-agers to observe a No Crime Day, failed to quell the violence. "Isiah Thomas probably had an effect for about a week," Wilkerson said.
The shootings became so serious last year that one Detroit radio station put up a controversial billboard on a major freeway that pictured a pistol along with the number of teen-agers shot in the city, a count that was updated each day.
Even before Thursday's shootings, Murray-Wright had become one of the most violent schools in the city.
In October, 1985, just before half time at Murray-Wright's homecoming football game, four teen-agers drove up behind the grandstands in their car, and one pulled out a shotgun and opened fire on a panicked crowd of 300. Three random blasts wounded seven people, mostly teen-agers.
Murray-Wright students said Thursday that one teacher had been severely beaten in the corridors of the school earlier this week by her boyfriend. They recalled also that a female student was stabbed in the eye by another girl last year.
Thursday's shootings occurred even though three school security officers were on duty inside Murray-Wright. Two Detroit police officers assigned to Murray-Wright were not in the building at the time of the shootings, according to Detroit School Supt. Arthur Jefferson.
"I wish to express appreciation to the Murray-Wright students and staff who intervened to prevent further tragedy in this unfortunate incident," Jefferson said in a statement.
Despite the presence of police officers and school security personnel, Murray-Wright students say it is still easy for students in Detroit high schools to bring guns onto school grounds. Weapons searches are so infrequent that they do not deter students who carry guns, they insist.
They add that many shootings occur after simple fistfights among students; they say the easy availability of weapons makes virtually any hallway argument extremely dangerous.
"A lot of times guys will get into a fight, and one guy gets embarrassed and he won't come back without doing something about it, and so he gets a gun," said Richard Furlow, a Murray-Wright senior.