Education

After a week of Cedar Rapids gun violence, teen protesters ask for better from schools, lawmakers

Cedar Rapids Kennedy student Raafa Elsheikh speaks during a protest at the school in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 29,
Cedar Rapids Kennedy student Raafa Elsheikh speaks during a protest at the school in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. The walkout and march followed three gun incidents involving young adults and teenagers in Cedar Rapids in less than a week, including an armed robbery in the school parking lot. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — In the span of just five days in Cedar Rapids, two young men were shot and killed and a high school student robbed at gunpoint on campus.

For some students at Kennedy High School — where police say 18-year-old Jovon Ellis approached a student Monday, pressed a handgun into her side and stole her cellphone — the spate of violence was reason to take action.

Dozens of students, many who were on campus when the robbery took place, walked out of classes Wednesday morning.

“I’m here to say we deserve better,” Noah Loehr, 17, said. “On Jan. 27 at approximately 3:30 p.m., I sat in the Kennedy orchestra room. ... Little did we know an armed gunman was among us on campus.”

The Monday incident at Kennedy High School, 4545 Wenig Road NE, came between two fatal shootings on the city’s northeast side.

Friday night, Andrew Gaston, an 18-year-old student at Metro Alternative High School, was shot to death. A 16-year-old also was shot and injured inn the incident.

Teachers remembered Gaston as studious, hardworking and “just a good kid.” A visitation is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at Murdoch-Linwood Funeral Home & Cremation Service in Cedar Rapids.

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Tuesday, Jose Millan-Ramirez, 22, was shot and killed outside Ashton Place Apartments, 634 Ashton Place NE.

No arrests have been made in either killing, and both happened at apartment complexes.

Ellis, a suspect in the armed robbery outside Kennedy, was arrested late Tuesday on charges of first-degree robbery.

Police say the 18-year-old — who, according to the Cedar Rapids Community School District, is not one of its students — approached a student, 18, in Kennedy High’s south parking lot from nearby Lovely Lane United Methodist Church.

“It’s a problem,” Kennedy High School student Lindsay Matus, 17, said during the march that followed the robber’s footpath. “Even in this past month we’ve had plenty of incidents with guns that could have been prevented.”

“Especially this week in CR has been crazy,” Deante Powe, 17, added. “One (shooting) happened right down the street from mine, so that was kind of spooky.”

Students called for an end to gun violence and stricter gun control legislation, while criticizing their high school’s response to the incident on campus.

“I feel like what happened to that young girl could have happened to any one of us,” said Raafa Elsheikh, 17, who was on campus that afternoon for a Black Student Union meeting. “There was an armed man — I feel like it was their responsibility to allow us to know that.”

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The district notified students and families of the incident about 7:20 p.m., nearly four hours after it had happened.

Interim Superintendent Noreen Bush, in a news conference Wednesday, said that was meant to prevent panic and avoid disclosing incomplete or incorrect information.

“We are fortunate to have a relationship with (the Cedar Rapids Police Department) right within our buildings,” she said. ” … So they immediately became involved in the situation.”

All of the Cedar Rapids district’s high schools have a police officer, known as a school resource officer, on campus full-time.

Police identified Ellis as a suspect by reviewing school video surveillance footage, which showed him running away following the robbery.

Knowing the suspect fled, Bush said police secured the high school, nearby Pierce Elementary, a church and the surrounding neighborhood.

“It was an immediate choreography, and it took a lot to execute and a lot of communication between everyone involved,” she said. “And with everything that happened, there was a lot to unpack and make sense of.

“We didn’t want to provide inaccurate information and — because the investigation was still underway, and we were certain the suspect had left the campus — our next immediate focus was surrounding the victim with the support she’ll need.”

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In a search of Ellis’ residence, police said they found the woman’s cellphone and a Daisy CO2 BB gun.

During Ellis’ initial court appearance Wednesday, a judge ordered him held on a $50,000 cash-only bail.

Moving forward, Bush said school officials and law enforcement officers will review protocols and their execution and make any changes needed to improve safety.

“This isn’t over just because the robber was arrested,” she said.

Students who marched Wednesday were away from class for about 30 minutes. As they walked, their chants echoed back to Kennedy’s front doors.

“Gun violence has led to many young deaths in Cedar Rapids in only the past week,” Elsheikh, one of the students leading the protest, said. “ ... This is a fight so that school can once again become about learning — because the only thing I should be worried about when I go to school is my math test, not my life.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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