Celebrate safely during graduation, police warn

May 13, 2009

Neal Wagner -


While violence at graduation parties is rare, police are warning parents and students throwing parties to plan ahead and have adequate supervision. 


A pair of Columbus teens Monday were arrested by the West Point Police Department in connection with a May 8 shooting during a high school party in Clay County. 


Columbus residents Chris Eastwood, 18, and another yet-unnamed 18-year-old were arrested Monday afternoon at Columbus High School after police learned they may have been involved in a Friday night shooting at the American Legion Hall in West Point. 


"We''ve only released limited information on the suspects because we are not certain the conviction will stand yet," said WPPD Deputy Chief Romelle Matthews. "Witness statements and investigation led us to the two suspects." 


The shooting happened at about 11:20 p.m. Friday after a fight broke out at a West Point High School senior party thrown for the students by a local parent. The party was not sponsored by the West Point School District. 


After the fight erupted, several party attendees left the building before shots rang out. During the shooting, three victims sustained minor injuries when they were grazed by bullets, according to police. A fourth victim sustained a gunshot wound to the groin and was treated and released from the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. 


Although police have not released information on those involved, Matthews said all suspects and victims were between 17 and 18 years old. 


Though May typically brings with it many high school graduation parties, police said they rarely involve violent incidents. 


"No, we''ve never really experienced anything like this around here before," Matthews said, noting about 100 people were at the party when shooting broke out. "I''ve never dealt with a shooting at an event like that before." 


Columbus Police Department Chief Joseph St. John agreed, saying violent occurrences at teen parties also are a rarity in the Friendly City. 


"You know, we had the incident last year where a few students got beat up during an event at the (Columbus) Country Club. But other than that, I really can''t remember us ever having a problem with that particular issue," said St. John. "It''s real sporadic, and it''s definitely something we take very seriously and try to prevent." 


In April 2008, a 16-year-old Heritage Academy sophomore was beaten up by at least six other students attending a social at the Country Club; like the West Point incident, the gathering was not school-sponsored. 


Six suspects reported to be involved in the fight were turned over to the CPD Criminal Investigation Division. It was speculated alcohol was involved in the incident. 


"I think it''s a fair assessment to say that teen parties and graduation parties are on the rise right now, because a lot of kids are graduating and getting out of school for the summer," said St. John. "We''re serious about making sure nothing illegal is going on with stuff like that and keeping violent occurrences from happening." 


Matthews said Friday night''s incident may have been the result of poor adult supervision. 


"Things like this can get out of hand quickly when there''s a lack of adult supervision at functions like that," Matthews said. "We just want to make sure that if parents plan an event like that, they also plan to have adequate supervision there as well."