The five injured in Morgan State University shooting were not the intended targets, police say

BALTIMORE — Baltimore police were searching for suspects Wednesday morning after five bystanders were wounded following gunfire during homecoming week celebrations on the campus of Morgan State University.

The injured were believed to be “unintended targets” in what was “probably a dispute between two smaller groups,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said at a news conference Wednesday. 

Four of the victims are Morgan State University students and one has since been released from the hospital, he said. The injured, four men and one woman, range in age from 18 to 22, and were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening, campus police have said.

Police officers stand at Thurgood Marshall Hall at Morgan State UniversityPolice officers stand at Thurgood Marshall Hall at Morgan State University in Baltimore, on Wednesday.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Worley said Wednesday that police know there was “more than one person with a weapon” at the scene but investigators were still studying ballistic evidence to determine how many guns were fired. 

“It looks like it was probably a dispute between two smaller groups and then one individual was a target of two individuals who had weapons,” he said. “We don’t believe that individual was hit. We believe the five victims who were struck were unintended targets.”

Worley said that a third person also pulled a weapon, but investigators don’t know how many of the guns were fired as a probe into the ballistics continued.

On Wednesday afternoon, Morgan State University President David Wilson said that all activities planned around homecoming would be canceled or postponed for the first time in the university’s history until those responsible “for this atrocity have been found and brought to justice.” The events included a homecoming pep rally, parade and concert.

Classes have also been canceled for the rest of the week, he said in the statement.

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“Today, we unfortunately find ourselves navigating this tragic event during a time at which we should be celebrating,” he said, adding that in response to the incident, “we are aggressively increasing security measures on campus.”

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said at the news conference Wednesday that “last night, we had a very, very difficult and tragic and traumatic situation at Morgan State University.”

“Our heart aches for the entire Morgan community, especially those directly impacted and their families,” he said.

A bullet-shattered window of a dorm room at Thurgood Marshall Hall at Morgan State UniversityA bullet-shattered window of a dorm room at Thurgood Marshall Hall at Morgan State University in Baltimore, on Wednesday.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

The mayor said the incident, one of many examples of gun violence across the country this year, once again highlighted the need for action on the “national level.” 

“Our hearts go out to everyone at Morgan State and the surrounding community,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House Press Secretary, said in a post on social media. She added that President Joe Biden was “committed to strengthening support and outreach to everyone impacted by gun violence.”

Wisdom Cole, the NAACP’s national director of the youth and college division, said in a statement Wednesday, “a new week, and a new tragedy has befallen our nation at the hands of the gun violence epidemic.”

“While we are fortunate that no lives were lost, the students at Morgan State must grapple with a lost sense of safety,” Cole said. “Our young people deserve to live free from the constant threat of gun violence. It is our duty to continue fighting for a future where their lives are put over profits. Congress, when are you going to stand up and protect us?”

Worley said at an earlier briefing that campus police heard gunfire around 9:25 p.m. and found the injured victims.

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Multiple windows were shattered, which led officers to initially believe there may have been an active shooter, he said.

The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting Baltimore police.

Students had been leaving a coronation ceremony that was part of the school’s homecoming week when the gunfire happened, Wilson said in an earlier statement.

Wilson said that on Tuesday night, shortly after attending the coronation, he was informed by campus police that shots had been fired in the vicinity of the campus’ Murphy Fine Arts Center and Thurgood Marshall Hall. 

A shelter-in-place order was lifted early Wednesday after the campus was cleared and officials said it was no longer an “active shooting” situation. 

According to Morgan State’s website, it is among the nation’s most diverse historically Black colleges and universities and had around 9,100 students in last fall’s semester.

“What happened yesterday is just sad and terrible,” Enoch Williams, a freshman at the university, told NBC News on Wednesday.

“I feel bad for the kids who got involved in it. Prayers out to the family,” Williams said. “I hope whoever did it gets caught and charged appropriately.”

“As a student that goes here, I shouldn’t have to fear for my safety,” Breya Link, a sophomore, said.

“It was really insane to me,” Link said.

Daniella Silva reported from New York, Gary Grumbach reported from Baltimore.

Daniella Silva

Daniella Silva is a reporter for NBC News, focusing on education and how laws, policies and practices affect students and teachers. She also writes about immigration.

Gary Grumbach

Gary Grumbach produces and reports for NBC News, based in Washington, D.C.

Owen Hayescontributed.