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City officials try to allay fears after school bus shooting

Durham city officials tried to ease citizens' concerns about safety in their neighborhoods Tuesday, holding a press conference in the wake of a recent shooting involving a school bus.

A stray bullet hit the back window of a Pearsontown Elementary School bus traveling near the Fayetteville Street housing complex Monday afternoon, grazing the driver and injuring two students. As they gave an update of the investigation Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Bill Bell and other city and school officials spoke with a collective sense of anger and stressed the need for community action.

"No one is more outraged than the officers [of the Durham Police Department] and myself," Interim Police Chief Steve Chalmers said. "The Durham Police Department has been working around the clock to identify leads and suspects."

Chalmers said the department has developed several leads, although it is waiting to substantiate them before releasing any information to the public. Chalmers estimated at least two shooters, who most likely are not residents of the public housing complex, were involved. He emphasized that neither the school bus nor anyone in it was specifically targeted.

Over 25 officers are currently working on the case, he said.

Chalmers also stressed the need for community involvement and cooperation in conducting the investigation and in ensuring that a similar incident does not occur again.

"We plan to work closely with the Durham Public Schools, the Durham Housing Authority and all other local and state agencies to address gun violence," he said.

Associate Superintendent for Administrative Services Calvin Dobbins said he appreciated the city's and police department's aggressive efforts in conducting the investigation.

"It's non-negotiable that children's safety is a primary issue," he said. "We have to keep that on the forefront."

At an impromptu press conference Monday evening, the possibility of modifying bus routes was mentioned, but Dobbins said no specific changes are currently planned.

"We have to be reasonable," he said. "Children in that community still need to get to school."

Dobbins added that changing bus routes would not necessarily prevent a similar incident. Durham Housing Authority Executive Director James Tabron said the shooting should not be interpreted as an indicator of public housing safety.

"We do feel many of our public housing units are some of the safest places you're going to find in Durham," he said. "These problems have their origins outside public housing."

Chalmers echoed this sentiment, citing statistics about gun violence in the housing complex.

"[This is] not an everyday occurrence in Fayetteville," he said.

Tabron said he hopes that people in the Fayetteville Street complex will come forward with information related to the incident.

In related efforts to increase the level of community policing, the DPD, in collaboration with the sheriff's department, will launch Operation Looking Glass this week. The initiative will address violent crime in Durham by focusing on identifying and removing violent criminals from the city's communities.

At Pearsontown Elementary, students who had been on the bus caught in the shooting were met Tuesday morning by the principal and counselors to discuss the incident. Extra personnel were added to the bus on its morning and afternoon routes.

Officials are encouraging anyone with related information to call Durham CrimeStoppers at 683-1200.

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