September 28, 2022
The 14-year-old football player who died Tuesday in an ambush shooting outside Roxborough High School has been identified as Nicholas Elizalde, a student at Walter B. Saul High School, Philadelphia police said Wednesday.
Elizalde attended Saul, the Philadelphia School District's agricultural high school also in Roxborough, but played football at the nearby school because Saul does not have its own team. Police said Wednesday, he was an "innocent victim" in the shooting and not the intended target of the five gunmen, all of whom are believed to be juveniles.
The student who died is one of five boys who were shot as he and his teammates walked back to the high school after a scrimmage among the junior varsity teams from Roxborough High School, Northeast High School and Boys Latin Charter School. Roxborough's football field is a short walk up Pechin Street from the school building.
Philadelphia police released surveillance video Wednesday afternoon that shows the gunmen exit an SUV before opening fire, and the reward for information about the suspects is now up to $40,000.
A total of 61 shots were fired at players as they walked back to the school, police said during Wednesday's briefing. Investigators played video from the scene and said the five gunman had waited for 6 minutes in a light-colored SUV, parked on Pechin Street near the high school, as Roxborough's players left the football stadium. A sixth suspect, the driver of the vehicle, waited inside the car during the shooting.
After firing a barrage of shots near Pechin Street and Fairway Terrace, four of the five gunmen got back in the SUV and fled the scene in the vehicle, police said. The fifth suspect chased down a 17-year-old, who officials said is not on the football team nor a Roxborough High School student, and shot him multiple times, police said.
That gunman stood over the 17-year-old, "presumably to finish him off," but ran out of bullets and fled the scene on foot, Philadelphia Police Capt. Jason Smith, commanding officer of the homicide unit, said.
No arrests have been made. Investigators are still trying to locate the suspects' vehicle and would not disclose whether any weapons had been recovered.
A motive for the shooting is still unknown, but Smith said it appears the ambush was targeted based how the shooting suspects had staked out the players exiting the practice field.
"We do believe that one or two of the individuals in that group were specifically targeted. We don't believe that they were targeted because they were members of the football team," Smith said. "We don't have any reason to believe that there were any issues during that scrimmage."
Police looking whether an altercation at lunchtime at Roxborough High School earlier Tuesday could be connected, Smith added.
Elizalde was shot once in the chest and was taken to Einstein Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.
None of the other shooting victims have been identified, and four of the five boys are members of Roxborough High's football team, police said. Three have spoken with police, but Smith declined to comment on what police have learned from them.
A letter from Roxborough High School principal Kristin Williams Smalley, posted on the high school's website Tuesday, said at least two of the boys shot were students at Roxborough.
Of the four students who survived the shootings, three were hospitalized: the 17-year-old shot once in the right arm and three times in the left leg; another 14-year-old who was shot once in the left thigh; and a 15-year-old boy struck once in the left leg. The fifth student was grazed by a bullet in the right ankle and treated at the scene, police said.
All three schools whose teams were playing in the football scrimmage are open Wednesday, officials said.
Smalley wrote in her letter that the school district's Emergency/Crisis Response Team would be at Roxborough on Wednesday to talk to students and staff who needed support. Parents of students concerned about changes in there children's behavior after the shooting can call 833-PHL-HOPE to reach the Philly HopeLine, a resource that connects families with mental health services.
There are multiple ways people with information about the shootings can contact investigators and provide anonymous tips: Call the district's Office of School Safety hotline at (215) 400-SAFE or send the information via email to email@example.com; Submit a tip to Philadelphia police by calling or texting (215) 686-TIPS; or provide police the information using this online form.
Roxborough High School's Instagram account posted a photo of the JV football team prior to Tuesday's scrimmage. After the shooting, social media users added condolences in the post's comments.
"Every incident of gun violence that impacts our schools and communities jeopardizes the sense of safety and security that everyone in our schools deserves," Philadelphia School District Superintendent Tony B. Watlington said Wednesday. "Whether they're in school, walking to or from school, or participating in a wholesome after-school activity or program — this epidemic gun violence must stop."
Tuesday's shooting brought grief and outrage to a community mostly spared from the most serious gun violence issues in Philadelphia.
Kenney called the shootings "heinous and cowardly" at the press conference. About Philadelphia's deadly problem with gun violence, he said, "It's not impossible and it's not hopeless. We're never going to give up. It's just a matter of — it's a heavy lift based on the state that we're in."
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner noted efforts made by his office and Gov. Tom Wolf to push for legislative reforms in the wake of the Uvalde elementary school shooting in Texas in May. He said the state legislature's failure to act is "utterly unacceptable" and that the consequences continue to be felt in places that are supposed to be protected.
"Our schools, our sports activities, these have to be safe havens," Krasner said. "These are the alternative to the street. This is where we have to be able to go to do things that are preventative, positive, constructive – and that's why this (shooting) is particularly painful."
The shooting garnered reactions from Several Philadelphia Eagles players, including lineman Lane Johnson and wide receiver A.J. Brown.
It must stop! 🙏 for these kids, their families, & their teammates. Sports are supposed to be a safe haven https://t.co/GdpzYbutOp— Lane Johnson (@LaneJohnson65) September 27, 2022
This breaks my heart. My heart goes out to the kids involved and to the one that lost his life. We have to do better. We have to protect our children man 💔💔💔💔💔💔 https://t.co/hJi5rxQhrp— AJ Brown (@1kalwaysopen_) September 27, 2022
U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey also issued statements on the violence.
"This is devastating news. Children shouldn’t fear for their lives leaving their schools or sports practices," Toomey said. "My heart goes out to the Roxborough High School community."
“My prayers are with the victims, their families and the entire Roxborough High School community," Casey said. "This is yet another horrible example of why we need more comprehensive gun legislation to protect our communities.”