Duquesne students try to make sense of basketball shooting

Duquesne students try to make sense of basketball shooting

By The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – More than 300 students gathered at a Mass following the shooting of five basketball players, trying to understand how the violence could have come to their tranquil, close-knit campus.

“We’re shocked because an event of this sort has never happened,” Duquesne President Charles Dougherty said. “It’s a safe campus and known to be a safe campus.”

Police searched for the gunman, and the downtown school stepped up its round-the-clock police protection with armed university police officers guarding dormitories and other buildings.

Two players had been walking near a dormitory when they met a man who apparently had been disruptive at a student union dance, authorities said. The players attempted to pacify him and walked away but were shot. Players who rushed to their aid were also shot.

In critical condition was forward Sam Ashaolu of Toronto, a transfer from Lake Region State College and a cousin of former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon. In serious condition was Stuard Baldonado of Colombia, a transfer from Miami Dade College who was considered the school’s best recruit.

Taken to another hospital was Kojo Mensah, a guard from New York City who averaged nearly 17 points last season at Siena College before transferring, authorities said. His condition was not released.

Treated and released were Shawn James of New York City, the nation’s leading shot blocker last season at Northeastern University before he transferred to Duquesne; and Aaron Jackson of Hartford, Conn., a guard who is one of only two returning players from Duquesne’s 3-24 team last season.

James, an NBA prospect expected to be Duquesne’s top player when he becomes eligible in the 2007-08 season, was shot in the foot but no bones were broken. Mensah was believed shot in the shoulder. Jackson was shot in the hand.

Crisis counselors were available for students, the university posted a letter from Dougherty on its Web site and was fielding phone calls from parents, spokeswoman Bridget Fare said. Officials will decide Monday whether to set up a specific phone line for parents seeking information, she said.

Duquesne coach Ron Everhart, formerly at Northeastern, had rebuilt the school’s program after being hired in March by bringing in 10 recruits – one of the most sweeping upheavals of any Division I program in recent years.

Dougherty said several witnesses saw the gunman leave campus after a half-dozen to a dozen shots were fired. He said witnesses reported seeing two guns – the second on someone in a group with the gunman – but he couldn’t confirm whether both were fired.

Dougherty, who said the gunman and the others with him were not students, said he did not know what sparked the violence.

“What motive can there be for unloading a pistol into a group of students?” Dougherty said.

At the Mass, the Rev. Raymond French, director of campus ministry, asked students to pray “for courage in these difficult days.” The Rev. Timothy Hickey reminded students they are part of a community.

“What affects one of us, affects all of us,” he said. “We are family and we care for one another. We care for you.”

Founded in 1878, Duquesne University is a private Catholic university with nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students in several high-rise buildings on a bluff overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.

Junior Katie Hauser, 20, of Latrobe, said she only attends Mass once in a while, but went Sunday because of the shooting.

“It’s really good everyone came together,” she said. “You feel a little bit closer.”

Freshman Harold Kolonich, walking with his parents near the campus Sunday evening, had few worries.

“I still trust the atmosphere. Duquesne is still a safe campus,” he said. “It’s unfortunate stuff like that happens. It’s a wonderful place to be.”

Although a women’s soccer game was postponed Sunday, the school planned to continue as normally as possible, Dougherty said.