CHALMETTE, La. - You can hear terrified screams in an eyewitness cell phone video as a staff member tried to break up a fight between multiple students at Chalmette High School Tuesday morning.
Deputies soon arrived on scene, and news of the scuffle quickly spread across social media as scared students contacted parents from inside locked classrooms.
“I hear an announcement, ‘Don't let your kids leave the classroom.’ I knew I was in danger,” said Emily Lapara, a Chalmette High School 10th grader. “When you hear kids crying in their classrooms saying, ‘I want to go home because I'm scared,’ you need to do something.”
The St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office and school district say there were no arrests, no injuries and no weapons. They say the school was never on lock down. Students have a different story.
Multiple students and parents say they saw at least one teacher and several students with bloodied shirts after the fight. They believe the blood belonged to others who were injured.
There was also blood in the hallways, according to 10th grader Julio Gonzalez, who witnessed part of the fight.
St. Bernard Superintendent Doris Voitier confirmed that, indeed, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker after the brawl broke out, asking teachers to hold kids inside the classrooms until all hallways were cleared and those involved in the altercation were removed from the school.
Tuesday night, parents and students packed a scheduled school board meeting to demand answers.
“I am angry because my daughter is terrified because she doesn't want to go back to school. I want to know why it was said it wasn't a lock down -- it wasn't this, it wasn't that -- but my daughter's telling me she saw guns,” said Keoka Thompson, an employee of the school district who has a daughter at Chalmette High School.
“We were right there with all of those students. They did not have in their possession any of those weapons you're talking about,” said Voitier.
Parents say Tuesday’s fight is just one of many at Chalmette High School. They believe one of the biggest issues is the lack of security.
“Every other day since school has started you hear, ‘Oh, there was a fight today, there was a fight today.’ It's ridiculous. This stuff needs to stop,” said parent Dana Pizzalato.
“I'm really about to take my child out of that school. He got punched for no reason, just walking into the bathroom,” said parent Amy Raybon.
Parents believe there's overcrowding at the parish's only high school post-Katrina, and rivalries are flaring up. They believe the school board should do more to address alleged violence and bullying.
“If we're always feeling like things are being covered up or things are being turned around and blamed on the students, we can't confide in them we have to go on what our children say,” said parent Shy Julian.
The school will continue to investigate Tuesday’s fight, said Voitier.
“We're going to do everything we can to make sure your children are safe,” she said.
Gonzalez is among those who believes the fight involved two rival gangs from different parts of the parish.
St. Bernard Sheriff Jimmie Pohlmann said he was not aware of any gangs or gang violence at the school.
Voitier said the students involved in the fight are suspended until the investigation is complete. And sheriff's deputies will be on site this week until further notice.