By Rick Palsgrove
Gunshots sent fans scattering at the recent Canal Winchester at Groveport Madison football game.
“It was the worst sound I’ve heard in my 24 years of duty as a Groveport Police officer,” said Groveport Police Lt. Josh Short of hearing the gunshots.
According to Groveport Police Detective Josh Gilbert, at around 9:08 p.m. on Aug. 19, Groveport Police officers working at the game responded to shots fired in an area outside of Cruiser Stadium. The game was halted with about two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the stadium was evacuated.
“Officers quickly detained one male adult suspect, James Keys, 18, of Columbus, and one juvenile,” said Gilbert. “Officers ensured nobody was struck by any of the rounds fired and quickly located one Glock 10mm handgun. The handgun located had been altered to make it a fully automatic weapon.”
According to the Groveport Police report, the suspect was apprehended four minutes after he fired the shots by officers after a short foot chase.
Gilbert said six shots were fired from the weapon and nobody was struck and there were no injuries. He said the gunshots took place among a large group of youths in a parking area near the Groveport Madison High School tennis courts and nearby Eastland-Fairfield parking lot.
The juvenile was released to his mother and Keys was sent to the Franklin County Jail where he was charged with a second degree felony of improper discharge of a firearm and second degree felony of inducing panic. Gilbert said additional charges are expected and the incident is still under investigation.
Groveport Police Chief Casey Adams said on Aug. 23 that the suspect in the shooting incident was released on bond by the Franklin County Municipal Court. This information is public record and can be viewed at fcmcclerk.com.
In addition to the shooting, police said several fights among youths took place in and around the stadium during the game.
Short said once those fighting were removed from the stadium they did not leave the area and a large crowd formed outside the stadium.
Gilbert said no Groveport Madison or Canal Winchester students were identified as being involved in the shooting incident or in the fights.
When asked if police knew why all the fights and shooting took place and who the alleged shooter was firing at, Gilbert said the reasons are unknown at this time and that witnesses and those involved in the incidents were “uncooperative.”
Gilbert said there were several “difficult variables” that police had to deal with during the incident including that the shooting took place in a dark area, there was a large number of youths involved, and people were running.
“Police officers ran toward the gunfire,” said Gilbert. “They put their lives on the line and it takes special people to do that.”
School staff also ran toward the gunfire.
Gilbert said it appears many involved in the disturbances at the game came from Columbus outside of Groveport. He said police do not know why these individuals came to the game in Groveport.
He said Groveport Police worked to de-escalate the fights by talking with those involved.
“We make the effort to mediate and separate them,” said Gilbert. “Our officers are good at talking people to calm them down.”
Short said social media rumors that there was also someone with a gun inside the high school building were false. Officers swept the building and did not find a shooter there and a review of security videos confirmed there was no gunman in the building.
Short urged people not to accept what is posted on social media sites as fact.
“The cesspool of social media spreads misinformation,” said Short.
The Groveport Police received mutual aid from the Columbus Police, Obetz Police, Madison Township Police and Fire departments, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in responding to the incidents at the game.
Groveport Madison response
In an official statement from Groveport Madison Schools, Superintendent James Grube said, “As we debriefed with police officials following the incident, we learned that several of our students and youths from other area high schools were loitering outside of the stadium. In addition, several out-of-district students got tickets to enter the stadium for the game. We will immediately implement safeguards to restrict out-of-district youth (exempting students from the visiting team) from obtaining tickets to our events.”
Grube said the district makes efforts to prevent youths from loitering outside the stadium during athletic events and that district officials will revisit these efforts.
Grube thanked the Groveport and Madison Township police departments.
“We work very closely with these two agencies and regularly review safety plans and conduct training drills for incidents of this nature,” said Grube. “They are incredible partners in keeping our students and school community safe. While we all will agree that this is an intolerable and unacceptable incident, we can’t let it diminish the hard work that goes into and the many benefits that are derived from student athletic events and other extracurricular activities.”
Grube said the district will continue to evaluate what occurred and will look for “additional opportunities to improve our practices and other systems to ensure the safety of our students, staff, families, and guests attending our events.”