After the October 15 shooting at a football game between Williamson and Vigor at Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment Complex, we have learned some things.
Five people were shot — two were seriously injured. Three suspects were identified. A 17-year-old male and a 19-year-old man are in custody. The third man, 19-year-old Hezekiah Belfon, who police believe to be the shooter, is still at large and considered armed and dangerous.
There were security lapses and breaks in protocol, which led to the gunman being able to enter the stadium with a weapon.
These things are undisputed.
But we have also learned there is plenty of blame being passed around about how this could have happened and who is responsible. And we have also learned there are a lot of people willing to throw each other under the proverbial bus.
The Mobile Police Department says they have on-duty officers there to deal with any criminal activity, but security and therefore security breaches are the responsibility of Mobile County Public School System or Ladd-Peebles, depending on whom you believe.
MCPSS, as well as at least two of their board members, place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, who they say they pay to handle all of this, and security is totally at their discretion. And there is a pretty broad term in the lease that says the stadium is in charge of security and the board will simply reimburse them.
Ladd says they did everything they were supposed to, claiming they are, in fact, in charge of providing some parts of the security detail, but the school system is in charge of manning the gates with resource officers, which is the point where the suspects were able to walk through uninhibited.
MCPSS says they were in charge of gate security but only until the third quarter and then Ladd was supposed to take it over. And it does seem pretty clear MCPSS had been providing resource officers until the third quarter.
Ladd said taking over in the third quarter is news to them.
And this area of responsibility does seem pretty murky. While there is an MCPSS protocol in place, nowhere is it explicitly written, “at this point in the game, gate security will revert from this entity’s responsibility to this entity’s responsibility.” Perhaps it was one of those things everyone thought was understood, but no one really did.
Back and forth. Back and forth, responsibility has been punted.
It is easy for all of us to be hypercritical after any tragic event happens, especially when we start looking at everything under a microscope.
“If only they had done this or they had done that,” we will say.
And it is important to remember the main person responsible is the man who pulled the trigger. If he had never engaged in this behavior, we most likely would not be having this discussion or watching this blame game play out.
But even still, doesn’t the buck ultimately stop with MCPSS?
They put out an 18-point safety protocol for all of their schools to follow after a 2019 shooting, also at Ladd-Peebles, injured nine. That was applauded as a very responsive and proactive first step at the time. This protocol was to be followed at all of the schools, even those with their own stadiums, or at outside venues, and they would even communicate this protocol to “opposing school districts.” It explicitly states there are to be “NO exceptions.”
But who is in charge of the second step? Making sure this protocol is executed effectively at each school stadium and/or venue?
Would it not be MCPSS?
Again, it’s always easier to look at things in hindsight, and in the aftermath, I am sure all of the parties involved have thought of something more they could have done. No one is completely blameless here. And, of course, no one wanted this to happen.
But it has been pretty disappointing to see all of the finger-pointing instead of our community coming together to find ways to make sure this doesn’t happen once again at a high school football game — a place where students, alumni and their families should always feel safe.
And there have definitely been some winners and losers in this whole ordeal, no matter what ultimately transpires or if the blame ever finds a permanent home.
There is Ladd-Peebles Sports and Entertainment Complex, which was already struggling some after losing University of South Alabama football games and the Senior Bowl. They would have to be considered a loser in this. As Ladd and MCPSS were busy pointing fingers at each other, MCPSS announced it was taking all of its events and going home, so to speak, saying they would no longer hold any football games or graduation ceremonies at the venue. While this probably won’t result in the demise of the stadium, it will give them more dates to fill and a revenue stream to replace.
But this loss to Ladd will be a win for B.C. Rain, LeFlore, Vigor, Williamson and Davidson, who are all slated to get on-campus stadiums. After this high-profile break-up, this will certainly light the fire under MCPSS to get these new stadiums built sooner rather than later.
And there were leaders who seemed to rise to the occasion to handle this tragic event with poise and professionalism … and those who literally ran away.
New Police Chief Paul Prine, who encountered this tragedy during his first week as chief, seems very hands-on, heading to the scene himself that Friday night. And very open and accessible — making public statements and being available to the media for questions right after the incident and again at a press conference on Monday.
Superintendent Chresal Threadgill, who is in his third year leading the school system, has been conspicuously absent and inaccessible. He only released a statement through a spokesperson and literally ran, or at least “walked briskly” away, from a reporter after a school board meeting last week, declining to answer any questions about the incident, which occurred at a game between two of his high schools.
In the end, when something like this happens in our community, we all lose. And it really doesn’t matter who is to blame.
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