Shooting spurs increased security at youth football games

Tom Fontaine
| Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 3:42 p.m.

Leaders of Pittsburgh's two largest youth football associations said on Monday that they will beef up police presence at games and screen attendees for weapons in response to a weekend shooting that left one person dead and two wounded.

“We will ensure, we will guarantee, these games will be safe,” said police Chief Nate Harper, who met with association officials about security measures.

The shooting at Obama International Studies Academy — the former Peabody High School — in East Liberty happened before the second game of the day between teams from East Liberty and Wilkinsburg. Police said it appeared to stem from a disagreement between people from Wilkinsburg, including one of the victims, a man whose 5-year-old son played in a game that just ended.

Harper said the man, 27, is in critical condition in UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.

Charlene Walters, 64, of Lincoln-Lemington died of her wounds in the hospital on Monday, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said.

A second woman, 33, was shot in the hand and was treated and released.

Harper said police intend to make arrests this week.

Bob Jones, president of Southwestern Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Initiative, said the group will hold games at a single location instead of three, though he would not say where. Renee Wright, president of Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association, said the group will play games at two locations instead of four.

This weekend will be the final one of the regular season for both associations.

Jones and Wright said the groups would boost police presence at games from two officers to three, and they will be on hand before the first games.

The shooting happened before off-duty Pittsburgh police officers arrived to provide security. Jones said the association hasn't paid for security at early games because it believed any friction between attendees would arise as game days wore on.

But, Harper said, “This argument started in Wilkinsburg, and Wilkinsburg residents brought this problem into the city.”

Jones and Wright said officers would screen fans with metal-detecting wands when they arrive.

Pittsburgh Public Schools made similar changes at its football games in the mid-1990s “when the city was going through a period of increased gang violence,” said district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh.

All city league football games are played in Cupples Stadium in the South Side, a “neutral site” because no high schools are in the neighborhood, Pugh said.

The district has six to 12 of its police officers on duty during games, depending when the game is played and whether there is a history of friction between schools. Attendees must pass through a metal detector.

Pugh could not recall any shootings inside the stadium.

After threatening to shut down youth football two years ago, when three people were shot near crowded Stargell Field in Homewood, Harper demanded changes such as requiring coaches to undergo background checks, wear police-issued IDs and hire police to provide game security.

“They made substantial improvements,” Harper said, noting that during the past two years, no major violence had occurred before Saturday's incident. “This makes me know we still have a challenge, and we will meet that challenge. We will have safe events.”

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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