The fire alarm went off at the Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester around 1 p.m. Wednesday, and students filed out into the warm afternoon, milling around for a few moments before starting back inside.
And then: gunshots. Students said they heard five to seven blasts. Boston Police are not yet sure what sparked the sudden flare of violence, but when it was over, a 17-year-old student was dead, and two other students and a 67-year-old woman were wounded.
“This is a sad day when a 17-year-old life is lost,” Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said at a press conference in front of the high school, where he implored witnesses to the attack to come forward. “We should be outraged, and the public should be stepping up.”
Evans said it did not appear that a car was used in the shooting, which happened a half-block from the school and that investigators were looking into whether it was a “basic street fight” that turned more serious. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday night, and officials had not publicly identified the 17-year-old victim.
While students at the school said they thought the fire alarm had been deliberately pulled, a law enforcement official briefed on the case said the alarm appeared to have been accidental and not related to the shootings.
Other details were unknown as well. It was not clear whether the male who was killed was the intended target of the shooting, the official said.
Another official with knowledge of the shooting said investigators were looking into the possibility that it was gang-related. Two of the victims who survived, including the 67-year-old woman, suffered graze wounds, Evans said. The third person was shot in the buttocks.
“We’re lucky we didn’t have more people injured more seriously here,” he said.
In the aftermath, the 17-year-old’s distraught older brother arrived at the high school, where City Councilor Tito Jackson was speaking with staff and outreach workers.
“It’s my little brother,” the man told Jackson. The councilor wrapped him in a hug, then walked with him away from the crowd. They spoke quietly, the man’s voice occasionally rising in disbelief. Then they joined hands with several others, bowed their heads, and prayed.
“We ask that we turn to each other and not on each other,” intoned Jackson, over the sounds of sirens and traffic behind him. “We’re not going to allow this to happen in our community, Lord. . . . We will stand up like men to protect our children.”
The man who said he was the victim’s brother declined to speak to reporters, but Jackson later said the teen who was killed had never had a run-in with police and was not involved in violence.
The boy’s cousin also was wounded in the shooting, Jackson said.
“These were young people who go to school, go home, and do great things,” Jackson said.
Friends of the victim described him as friendly, kind, and a “good kid.”
“He used to give me hugs,” said Olivia Lucien, 18, who said she had been the victim’s classmate at Mildred Avenue Middle School. She watched the flashing blue police lights from inside a Burger King at the corner of Washington Street and Columbia Road. “I didn’t believe it until I came over here and saw all this.”
Witnesses described a confusing and upsetting scene, and some had not even been sure that what they heard were gunshots.
Jack Franklin, 16, a sophomore at the Burke school, said he was headed toward the school after making a trip to CVS following the fire alarm when he heard five shots.
“A guy in a car said to me, ‘Don’t go down there. There’s been a shooting,’ ” he said.
A 15-year-old student who declined to give her name said she was behind the school when she heard the shots but didn’t know what the sounds were.
When she tried to walk around to the front of the school, she said, she could see a bloody body on the ground.
The high school and three other nearby schools were placed in safe mode after the event, preventing students from leaving. The other affected schools were the Dearborn STEM Academy, the Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 School, and the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School.
As news of the shooting spread, students’ family members rushed to the scene, desperate to find their loved ones.
Lisa Wallace of Dorchester stood behind crime scene tape, frantically calling the cellphone of her brother, Justice Wallace, 16, a student at the Burke school.
“He’s supposed to be in school,” Wallace said. “I don’t know if he’s one of the kids who went to the hospital or not.”
Behind the school, the 17-year-old’s friends, one of them sobbing and covering his face with his shirt, were loaded into police cars by officers who assured onlookers that the boys were only being interviewed, not arrested.
A young woman wept loudly behind the school, collapsing against a wall while street workers consoled her. “He didn’t do nothing to nobody,” she said.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh headed straight to the scene after his plane touched down from China, where he had attended a climate change conference.
“I think the community is getting sick and tired of what’s happening in the city, in terms of shootings,” Walsh said.
By Wednesday night, a small collection of prayer candles was growing on the pavement where the young man was shot. A woman who identified herself as his cousin stared sadly at the candles.
“He had the biggest heart, the biggest smile,” she said. “He was a good kid, a real good kid, I know that for sure.”
The killing of the 17-year-old was the city’s 13th homicide of the year, compared with 12 at this time last year.
Trauma counselors will be at the Burke school on Thursday for students and staff, said Superintendent Tommy Chang.