MATTHEWS – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox defended the district’s response to a fatal shooting that occurred Oct. 29 at Butler High but admitted that communication between CMS and parents needs to improve.
Officials also said bullying may have led to the shooting but they did not provide any further details at a press conference hours after the shooting.
The shooting occurred just before classes were scheduled to begin Oct. 29, following a fight near the school’s cafeteria. Freshman Jatwan Cuffie was arrested shortly after the shooting. Cuffie was charged with first-degree murder after he allegedly shot and killed sophomore Bobby McKeithen following the altercation. At least one student said McKeithen was shot in the back after the altercation.
The school was immediately placed on lockdown, and Cuffie was arrested minutes after the 7:15 a.m. shooting. Cuffie, 16, surrendered to a Butler teacher and was then arrested at 7:21 a.m. Cuffie allegedly admitted to the teacher that he had shot McKeithen.
Butler was closed Oct. 30. Students were not scheduled to return to campus until Nov. 1 as Oct. 31 was a previously scheduled work day for teachers.
“This is a sad and troubling day for all of us in this community,” Wilcox said during an Oct. 29 press conference. “Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn with the victim’s family and friends. More than two lives have been changed forever. We are going to give our teachers a chance to process what they have been through. We are going to give our students a chance to stay at home with family and loved ones and come to grips with what happened.”
Many parents went to Elevation Church on Independence Boulevard near the school after news of the shooting flooded social media. Many of the parents became frustrated and marched to campus to find their children. Some students fled the school just after the shooting and some of those students made their way to the church, but most sheltered in place. The lockdown ended after about 90 minutes, and most students left school after it was lifted.
Wilcox said the 90-minute lockdown was necessary as law enforcement officials made sure the shooting was an isolated incident.
“We didn’t know initially how many shooters were involved in this,” Wilcox said. “We choose to err on the side of caution. It was a decision we made to keep kids safe. What would have they said to us if they would have come to school and we couldn’t locate their children? I think their fear would have been magnified. I think I would have made the same decision again.
“Someone asked me how could someone, especially a student, come onto one of our campuses with a loaded gun, and I wish I had an answer to that. There really is no easy answer. We do not have metal detectors in our schools. We do not search our students on the way into school. Our schools and students rely on cooperation between and among each other. And today, that simply wasn’t enough.”
Students who could not find transportation home remained at school for the rest of the day. Wilcox said about 100 students were left on campus when the official school day ended. Officials said the decision to keep the school open was made to provide students with a safe place to stay until their families could come get them.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our kids,” Wilcox said. “We will do what we can to protect our kids.”
Wilcox said the district will seek to improve procedures for such events and communication between CMS and parents.
“We are going to go back to square one and see where we can do a more effective job in communicating with parents,” Wilcox said. “We have to find a way to better communicate with our communities. I hope we can do something sooner than later. It’s a very complicated task. We have 177 different campuses and all of them are unique.”
Matthews police said the school’s resource officer reached the victim and started rendering aid within 15 to 20 seconds after the shooting. Another officer outside directing traffic was also on the scene quickly.
Wilcox said the shooting was a result of a conflict “between the two individual students” from bullying that escalated out of control.
“We are working right now with law enforcement to piece together what happened,” Wilcox said. “It was in fact an isolated event. As fear took over, a young person brought a gun to solve the problem.”
McKeithen’s family held a press conference Oct. 29 thanking the community for prayers and asserting that McKeithen was not a bully. His father, also named Bobby, called for the community to come together and not allow people to be hurt by guns.
He also expressed remorse for Cuffie’s family.
Police Capt. Stason Tyrrell said a teacher notified officers about five to seven minutes after the shooting that she was with Cuffie and he was ready to surrender.
“Those officers moved to that area and they were able to take the suspect into custody,” Tyrrell said. “He admitted what he had done.”
Butler High junior Owen Danner was in the gym at the time of the shooting. He said the shooting occurred following a fight between the victim and the suspect. Danner said he had known the victim since the sixth grade.
“There was a fight and the person that lost brought a gun and shot him in the back as he was walking away,” Danner said. “It’s crazy.”
Danner spent about 90 minutes in the boys’ locker room next to the gym before students were released. Danner said teachers kept students calm while the school was on lockdown.
“They just locked the doors, we didn’t know what was going on,” Danner said. “When I found out, I thought ‘this is just crazy.’ People were freaking out and parents were rushing to the school. It was chaos.”
Butler senior Jordan Jackson lives in the same neighborhood as McKeithen and was one of around 100 people that attended a candlelight vigil for the victim Oct. 29 at the school.
“He was a neighborhood friend,” Jackson said. “He was a good kid, he was a really nice kid. He would always make people laugh and smile. This is a real tragedy. No mother should have to bury her own child. All I know is the two kids really didn’t get along with one another.”
Wilcox praised the staff and students at the school on how they conducted themselves in the shooting’s aftermath.
“I’m incredibly proud of the way you reacted,” Wilcox said. “I’m incredibly proud of Principal John LeGrand, he was a rock today for his school community and for his students. I’m especially proud of the young people who conducted themselves in a manner that I think many adults can learn from. Our young people today at the first sign of a lockdown went into their classrooms and barricaded themselves in their classrooms and waited quietly to be dismissed to the outside. They understood that panic in a difficult moment could only lead to more confusion. They understood that they just couldn’t run out into the streets where we didn’t know where they were.”
LeGrand posted a message on the school’s Facebook page Oct. 29 mentioning it would open Oct. 31 for students and families in need of counseling support.
“Today was an extremely hard day,” LeGrand wrote. “We lost a student to gun violence this morning. Unfortunately, this was not anything that we could have anticipated.”
He credited law enforcement for their quick response, staff for protecting students during the lockdown and parents for their cooperation as students were reunited with families.
“We will get through this together,” LeGrand wrote. “We are Butler strong. Thank you and be safe.”
Want to help?
A GoFundMe page on behalf of Bobby McKeithen’s family for burial expenses raised $8,751, as of 9 a.m. Oct. 31. Funeral arrangments will be posted at www.facebook/myouthmoc.