Police officials in Mobile have released the identity of a Murphy High School student who was arrested after opening fire on the school’s campus Thursday morning.
According to a press release from the Mobile Police Department, 16-year-old Jonah Neal fired multiple shots from a handgun following a verbal altercation with another student. Police say he pointed the gun at school administrators and students before going outside and firing several rounds into the air.
No injuries occurred during the incident.
The shooting was reported about 11:35 a.m. and caused the school to go into a brief lockdown. According to MPD Chief Lawrence Battiste, officers responded and had taken Neal into custody within minutes.
Neal is facing a number of criminal charges including menacing, reckless endangerment, receiving stolen property and certain persons prohibited from possessing a firearm — a felony charge based on his age.
According to Battiste, anybody over 16 years of age who commits a violent felony with a weapon in their possession can be charged as an adult. That is the case with Neal, though he was originally processed as a minor and taken into custody at the Strickland Youth Center.
As the incident was unfolding, Mobile County Superintendent Martha Peek addressed members of the local media following an unrelated press conference. Though details were few, she said the conflict seemed to have been initiated off school grounds and spilled over onto campus.
“It seems as if a student had a problem in the community over the weekend. The school had addressed that problem to work it out between the students, but, one of the students brought a gun today, went outside and fired the gun into the air,” she said. “Because our safety plan was immediately followed the gunman was immediately taken care of, the person is being arrested and there was no damage or injuries at Murphy High School this morning.”Peek said Murphy, like every MCPSS school, has a security plan for incidents like this, which she credited for the prompt resolution to the situation and the lack of injuries. Asked about steps the district has taken to prevent similar incidents, Peek said Murphy’s campus is a gun-free zone.
“We have a policy that prohibits any kind of firearms on our campuses. We do random searches with canines and also use metal detectors,” she said. “All of our students know that weapons are not allowed on campus and that we deal with it immediately and follow our code of conduct.”
A sign on the front gate of the school did not appear to deter Thursday’s gunman, though. It’s also not the first time this academic year that a gun was brought into Murphy High School. In October police were called to the school after a teacher “found bullets on the ground in a breezeway.”
No shots were fired during that incident and no injuries were reported.
when asked about the proximity of the two incidents, Peek told reporters she didn’t remember the incident from October and couldn’t speak to it directly. She went on to tell reporters that these types of incidents are uncommon at the Midtown school.
“Murphy High School, if you’ll notice, has not been in the news, and has not had many incidents like this,” she added. “This I can say truly is a random incident, and what I’m most thankful for is that, as always, the safety plan was followed.”
However, a Lagniappe records request last Fall revealed local police have been dispatched to Murphy’s campus on hundreds of occasions over the past four years, including 254 times in 2014, 200 times in 2015, 236 times in 2016 and 131 times as of October Of 2017.
Those reports indicated nine incidents where a weapon was reported on campus, 20 calls in response to reported assaults and 17 drug violations. However, a number of responses stemmed from lesser events like traffic obstructions, minor accidents and aborted calls to 911.
According to Battiste, the gun Neal used in Thursday’s shooting was discovered to have been reported stolen from the city of Saraland. The charge for receiving stolen property gives the impression Neal purchased the gun from a third party, but police have yet to confirm that.
Battiste said it was fortunate that no one was seriously injured, but also used the incident to highlight Mobile’s ongoing problem with firearms being stolen out of vehicles and homes.
“This highlights once again the need for people to lock their vehicles, and while we believe people have the right to bear arms, we would ask that they be more careful in securing their weapons,” he added. “This young man couldn’t have gone to a pawn shop or Academy Sports and purchased a weapon. This was most likely stolen out of somebody’s vehicle or home.”
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