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School district offering counseling to students who may have known victims
Updated with comment from Central Catholic High School.
The teen-ager who was shot and killed outside of a hayride in North Versailles Twp. on Saturday night was trying to intervene in an argument, Allegheny County police said.
Now, homicide detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the person responsible for the death of Steven Eason, 15, of Wilmerding, and who injured another teen-ager from Penn Hills whose name has not been released by police.
Meanwhile, East Allegheny School District is offering grief counseling to students who may have been present at Haunted Hills Hayride on Saturday night, or who may have known one of the two victims.
As many as 100 people may have been present at the time of the shooting, police said, which took place near a ticket booth, according to witnesses.
Eason was a student at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, the school announced. The other victim was a student at Penn Hills High School.
“To the best of our knowledge, none of the persons involved in this incident were students in our school district,” East Allegheny School District Superintendent Alan Johnson said in a message to parents on Sunday. “And yet we know that a number of our students were present at the time of this incident and we know that it is at least likely that the victims may have been known by some of our students.”
The hayride — a Halloween-themed attraction which also includes a walking trail — has operated along Route 48 for more than 20 years. A portion of this year’s proceeds were designated to benefit the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.
Saturday was the opening night for the 2021 season and was advertised as a “lights out” night where participants would be issued glow sticks to guide their passage through the exhibits. The gates had opened at 8 p.m., only a few minutes before the shooting.
Allegheny County police Lt. Venerando Costa said Eason went to the event with a group of friends.
When Eason and the other youths saw an argument begin between the shooting suspect and another teen-ager, who Costa said they knew casually, they went over to assist.
It is currently unknown what prompted the confrontation, Costa said.
The shooting suspect then drew a handgun and fired three times, striking the other teen-ager in the shoulder and Eason in the chest and stomach, Costa said.
The suspected shooter then ran away in the direction of the parking lot, he said.
The shooter was described as a black male, 5’9” to 6’0” in height, slender build, between the ages of 15 and 17, and wearing dark clothing.
Paramedics who were working at the event took both victims to local hospitals, where Eason died of his injuries. The other teen-ager is currently in stable condition, Costa said.
At the time of the shooting, there were between 50 to 100 people in the immediate area, he said.
Detectives are asking anyone who saw the shooting, or who has cell phone video at the time of the shooting, to contact the Allegheny County Police Homicide Unit at 1-833-ALL-TIPS (1-833-255-8477). Callers may remain anonymous, Costa said.
Central Catholic principal Brother Tony Baginski said the school will be providing grief counseling to students and support to Eason’s family.
“The Central Catholic community is deeply saddened by this tragic loss,” Baginski announced via the school’s Facebook page. “Steven was a dedicated student, a talented member of the track team and a blessing to have at Central Catholic. He will be deeply missed by all of us at Central Catholic and we offer our condolences and prayers to his family and friends.”
Funeral arrangements are incomplete, he said. Eason was a member of the class of 2024.
“Counselors will be available in-person during regular school hours this week,” Baginski said. “Students may visit the counseling center during school hours or can email any of the counselors directly if they would like to speak with them.”
Penn Hills High School will have counselors on standby for students, the district announced on Facebook, and encouraged parents to talk to their students about the incident.
In addition to counseling, Johnson said North Versailles Twp. police will be providing extra security at both the junior-senior high school and Logan Elementary School today.
In his message to parents, Johnson said there is no reason to believe the shooting was related to anything that happened at any East Allegheny schools.
“We have been in contact with the North Versailles Twp. police since this incident took place and they have provided us with regular updates and remarkable assistance throughout,” Johnson said. “The extra police and security presence is purely a precaution and is meant to reassure students and parents that our campuses are safe and are ready to move ahead with the important mission of educating our children.”
The shooting comes at a time when students, faculty and staff are still trying to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, calling violent crime “another of the great epidemics that plagues communities across our nation.”
“Events such as this have become, tragically, a more and more common experience in schools and communities all across the United States,” Johnson said. “But we also know from experience and research that we can move beyond these terrible events and, with proper support and care, so can our students.”
He encouraged parents who have concerns to contact their school principal or office.
The hayride is scheduled to be open this Friday and Saturday, with hours continuing until Nov. 5 and 6. Organizers have not yet announced whether the venue will open as planned this week.
Originally published September 13, 2021.