About 50 boys, all fourth- and fifth-graders, were outside, some shooting baskets, others playing, at the Julia Ward Howe Academic Plus Elementary School in Fern Rock. But suddenly, seven to eight high-school students stormed into the yard swinging aluminum baseball bats at the children, said school district spokesman Fer-nando Gallard.
They hit and injured at least 10 boys, according to a note sent to parents from Howe Principal Doaquin R. Jessup.
“We don’t understand what happened,” Gallard said. “This is one of those unexplainable, outrageous incidents that just makes you shake your head.” Police said at least three of the Martin Luther King Jr. High students, whose names and ages were not provided, were arrested yesterday.
One boy had been hit in the head and another in the face, the students said. A number of parents yesterday questioned whether the school provided enough security for the pupils at recess.
Robert Amour, father of an 11-year-old fifth-grader whose son was hit in the abdomen with a bat, said he had heard that the school’s main security officer was off yesterday.
“I’m very upset,” Amour said. “That tells me they’re not watching our kids. If kids with bats can come over there and hit on the kids, then there’s a possibility of adults getting there and snatching them, too.”
But the district’s Gallard said that Jessup assured the district that two adult women employees were supervising the students.
Gallard said that when the attacks began, shortly before 1 p.m., one of the women, a nonteaching assistant, began getting children inside the school and the other started chasing the teens away.
Jessup sent home a letter to parents yesterday notifying them of a “serious incident in the schoolyard” in which “some of the high-school students . . . attempted to do bodily harm to approximately ten of our students.”
The letter said the fourth- and fifth-graders were being supervised at lunch recess. But it noted that as a precaution, “We will suspend outside recess for the next couple of days.”
Gallard said Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman said she will ask the District Attorney’s Office and Philadelphia police to capture and prosecute “to the fullest extent of the law” all of the high-school students who took part in the attack.
Police last night confirmed neighborhood reports that the high-schoolers were from Martin Luther King High School, at Stenton Avenue and Haines Street in East Germantown. It is about two miles from Howe, on 13th Street at Grange Avenue.
Gallard said the high-school students had “aluminum bats.” And the parents of one child said their son saw a wooden bat.
People who gathered at the school after the attack said they had seen several bats, but a police spokesman said that there had been only one bat and that the attackers had passed it around among themselves.
A woman who lives near the school and has a child who once attended Howe said word had spread from Howe teachers that the Martin Luther King students attacked the Howe pupils in retaliation for a previous fight between a teenage girl from Fern Rock and another girl who lives near or attends King.
The parent, who asked not to be named, said that girl sent the Martin Luther King boys to Howe because the Fern Rock girl has a younger brother who attends Howe.
Police did not provide a motive for the attack.
“The kids were play-fighting,” said the fourth-grader. “Then the big kids came in and had a metal bat and one hit one of our kids in the head.
“This was no nightmare,” the boy said. “This was serious.”
Staff writer Christine Olley contributed to this report.