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17-year-old boy hospitalized after being shot by girl's father in Habersham County

The Habersham County Sheriff's Office stressed the incident, which happened near a school, was not a school shooting on Wednesday.

HABERSHAM COUNTY, Ga. — A juvenile was shot and hospitalized near schools in Habersham County on Wednesday morning in an incident the sheriff's office stressed was not a school shooting and did not pose any danger to any other students and staff.

Habersham County Sheriff's Office public information officer Kevin Angell said it happened near Habersham Central High School and the Habersham Ninth Grade Academy.

"I want all of the parents at ease, as well as anybody else in our community - especially in light of yesterday's events - that this is not a school shooting," Angell said in a video message on Facebook. "I want to repeat: This is not a school shooting."

Incident in the 2000 block of SR 197. MEDIA INQUIRIES: Please email kangell@habershamga.com. On camera, in person and audio interviews will not be available until after 2pm. A formal press release is forthcoming.

Posted by Habersham Co. Sheriff Joey Terrell on Wednesday, May 25, 2022

He said because the incident took place near schools, those schools were placed on lockdowns.

"This is typical for us, to take that kind of protective behavior, our (student resource officers) were in place and they were on it to protect those students," Angell said.

A later update from the sheriff's office explained what had happened. It said deputies had responded to a call about a "young male and female fighting" at the Central Alliance Church, which is near the two schools.

School resource officers ensured the schools were secure and then "located a 17-year-old male juvenile involved in the incident and provided initial medical attention." The 17-year-old was taken to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville in stable condition.

The sheriff's office said a 36-year-old man, Dustin Vandergrift, was detained while trying to leave the church and questioned.

During an interview, he "told investigators that he tracked his juvenile daughter's cell phone to the rear of the Central Alliance Church and decided to check on her" which led to him confronting the juvenile and shooting him.

The daughter "told investigators that her father appeared behind the church, battered the male juvenile she was with, and then shot at him" and that her "father struck her after the incident."

The father was charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, two counts of first degree cruelty to children and two counts of third degree cruelty to children and three other charges.

Vandergrift is being held without bond in the Habersham County Jail.

Habersham County Schools Superintendent Matthew Cooper issued a statement about the incident:

As soon as we became aware that there had been a possible shooting near a church in Mt. Airy, we placed all schools on a precautionary lockdown. This church is located across the street from Habersham Central High School and Habersham Ninth Grade Academy. Our Principals immediately sent out a message to parents notifying them that there was law enforcement activity near a school and that we were putting a lockdown in place simply as a precaution. As I began to gather details about the incident, I became aware that there was in fact a shooting that took place near the church across the road from the Ninth Grade Academy and Habersham Central.

I made the decision at that point to send out a One Call from me as superintendent to all parents in the school system. During events like this I believe it is important to be as transparent as possible and to share as many facts as possible to keep rumors and panic from spreading. Most importantly, I wanted parents to know that their students were safe, that the shooting did not take place at a school, and that we were taking the necessary precautions at our schools. 

Later on, we received the all-clear from the Sheriff's Office and were informed that the shooter was in custody. Sheriff Terrell and I spoke about how to handle the remainder of the school day and we both agreed that it was in the best interest of our students to resume normal activities in our schools. There were no threats to any school and the incident at the church was contained. We not only are concerned about the physical safety of our students but also their mental well-being. In light of the evil that took place in Texas yesterday, we wanted to keep things as normal as possible for our students. We did not want to create fear, panic or mental trauma for our students. Some parents chose to come get their children from school, which we certainly respect, but most of our parents realized their children were safe and trusted the schools to keep them safe for the remainder of the day. 

I was beyond impressed with the way law enforcement responded to the scene of the incident and how they responded to our schools to make sure they were safe. Our EMS personnel here in Habersham County also performed remarkably today.

Our Principals also performed admirably today in keeping their students safe, keeping them calm, and in ensuring there was a secure perimeter at their schools.

I am told the person who was the victim in the shooting will likely make a full recovery. This was perhaps the best news of the day.


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