'Mass chaos': Witness describes panic after gunfire erupted at high school graduation
HAMMOND - What should have been a celebration turned into a night that hundreds from the Hammond High class of 2022 wish they could forget.
Penny Lapre was at the graduation ceremony at Southeastern Louisiana University with her son and his girlfriend when the shooting happened.
“[I'm] in disbelief that something like this could be happening at such a joyous occasion for these, you know, there was 280-something kids graduating," Lapre said. "It was mass chaos."
Lapre says she took a picture with her son's girlfriend at 8:16 p.m. Seconds later, the celebratory mood turned to terror.
“My son grabbed his girlfriend, and I pushed them to the ground with her mom," she said. “We stayed on the ground for moments until the gunfire stopped, and we proceeded to get up and run inside the arena when they started again.”
A crowd of hundreds fled for safety in all directions while stray bullets flew past them. Lapre and her family stayed low to the ground, unsure if the violence was over, before they began to run, too.
“So if you imagine every child had 20 tickets, the amount of people that were out here and the amount of chaos that when something like this happens and everyone is running in all directions," Lapre said.
Three innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Another bystander was trampled during the ensuing panic.
Lapre says with a crowd that size, it's a miracle more weren't injured.
“I remember walking from gate five to three, and they had elderly in wheelchairs coming down, they had children... and all I could think about was all the people that could’ve really got hurt by all the stray bullets flying everywhere,” Lapre said.
Still processing everything that happened, she feels sympathy for the graduates, whose accomplishments now will be forever overshadowed by a senseless act of violence.
"For these children that are 17, 18 years old to have to witness something like that, it was just horrific,” she said.
Those who were injured are expected to make a full recovery.
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