ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood High School staffers were warned before Friday's varsity football game that young men from opposing neighborhoods were feuding off-campus.
It's the kind of rumor that school officials hear — and prepare for — all the time. This one, though, proved prescient:
Gunshots rang out 100 yards outside that night's packed Lakewood-Gibbs game. Players, cheerleaders and coaches hit the deck as the sold-out crowd of 1,500 scurried for cover. The game was ended early, and everyone was quickly evacuated.
"There's always rumors that fly during all kinds of events," said Lakewood principal Robert Vicari, "especially when you have a sold-out game and you're the only game in town."
Witnesses said they saw several young men point weapons in the air and fire shots into the air around 10:25 p.m. outside the nearby Lake Vista Recreation Center. Police said they recovered shell casings of several different calibers.
No one was injured that night and no arrests have been made. St. Petersburg police did not release any new information about the shooting Tuesday, nor did they say if the dispute that led to the shooting was the same one school officials were warned about.
But it seems police and school officials were able to keep whatever was brewing outside the campus from school grounds. Vicari said his staff denied entry to an individual whom police warned them not to let in.
"They said this dispute involves someone we want to make sure doesn't come into the football game," Vicari said. He said that unidentified person was turned away without incident.
The principal said parents who live nearby were already worried about their neighborhood before the shooting.
"They were concerned about the things that were happening in the neighborhood," Vicari said. "They wanted to make sure we're taking care of their child."
The one thing Vicari said the school needs to work on is crowd control and parking: Too many fans gathered outside the stadium and watched the game while standing on the hoods of their vehicles.
St. Petersburg police Maj. Hope Crews said there are no plans to beef up security at future Lakewood games (the team visits St. Petersburg High this week) because whatever happened Friday wasn't connected to the school. But officers will remain assigned to all the school's sporting events as usual.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, who has two sons on Lakewood's team, said he sponsored a dance Saturday night at Lake Vista to raise money for new football uniforms. But Friday's shooting scared away too many people, he said, and only 80 kids showed up.
The fundraiser ended up losing money.
"There was a lot of fear on the part of parents and teens," Rouson said. "Someone even sent out a Facebook message saying if you don't want to get shot go to the movies."
Rouson asked: "Why do some people want to ruin it for others?"
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.