ST. PETERSBURG ― Police are investigating a bullet that was fired through a window of a preschool classroom at Allendale United Methodist Church on Thursday afternoon.
No one was injured in the incident, which was reported just after 3 p.m. Eleven children, all 2 years old, were in the room at the time, police said. A total of 44 children, ages 2 to 6, attend the preschool at 3803 Haines Road.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said the shot had characteristics of a “stray bullet” and was likely not directed at the church. But investigators aren’t ruling anything out regarding motive, he said.
A sign in front of the church reads: “Dear God, Give courage to our elected officials to stand up to the NRA. Amen.”
Holloway said, "We’re going to investigate both angles of this.”
He said the bullet hit the top corner of a window on the northwest side of the church. It didn’t pierce the curtain inside and landed on the windowsill — both signs to investigators that it wasn’t moving very quickly.
Rev. Andy Oliver, who has been the church’s pastor for about three years, said the children inside the classroom hardly noticed the shot because it wasn’t very loud.
The church immediately initiated its safety plan by placing the building on lockdown, moving children to a safer place and calling parents, he said. Oliver met the children in the chapel and began reading them books, he said.
Oliver said parents came immediately after the incident to pick up their children. Most were calm as they listened to the preschool director explain that the school’s safety plan was carefully followed.
Khyre Edwards checked his phone Thursday afternoon to find more than a dozen messages from his wife, Victoria. She was frantic, he said, as she recounted a vague phone call from the school saying she needed to pick up their daughter early.
Edwards’ first thought was a school shooting, he said. It wasn’t much longer before he was listening to his 4-year-old daughter, Makena, say those exact words.
“We got to color with pastor Andy and we had a school shooting,” she told him calmly. But for him, the experience was terrifying.
Edwards said though schools have added security, like gates, fences and guards, it isn’t enough. Shootings will only stop when gun laws change, he said.
He spent a couple days earlier this week at the Pinellas County courthouse, listening to the trial of Michael Drejka, a man accused of fatally shooting another man last summer in Clearwater.
“It’s kind of hard to put guns out of your mind right now,” Edwards said. “It’s just hard, whether it’s random or not. ... This can’t be our new normal.”
The school will be closed Friday, Oliver said, and will have a stronger security presence when it reopens next week.
“Come Monday, this will probably be one of the safest places in St. Petersburg," he said. “We’re going to keep doing everything we can to do our No. 1 job, which is to keep children safe.”
Holloway said all investigators know about the gun so far is that it was “not a rifle.” Police were canvassing the neighborhood to see whether residents saw anything or anyone suspicious near the church. They also were searching for any available surveillance video.
Police urged anyone with information about the incident to call (727) 893-7780 or send a text to tip411.
Contact Megan Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mareevs