(CNN) — Four students and another person were wounded when gunfire erupted outside a crowded homecoming event at Morgan State University in Baltimore, police said, sending students on a dash for cover and a SWAT team into a dorm to hunt for suspects as the nation’s gun violence epidemic struck yet another American campus.
Hours after the Tuesday evening attack, police no longer believed it was an active shooter situation, though they hadn’t found any suspects and are still investigating, Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said in a news briefing. There was no suspect description by early Wednesday.
There was more than one person with a weapon at the scene of the shooting, though investigators are still analyzing the ballistics to determine how many weapons were fired, Worley said.
The shooting likely stemmed from a dispute between two small groups, he said.
“One individual was a target of two individuals who had weapons. We don’t believe that individual was hit,” Worley said. “We believe the five victims who were struck were unintended targets.”
“We were outside of our coronation, basically they let out and everybody was leaving, and then we see two gunshots hit the front window and everyone just started running,” a student identified only as David, who lives at the historically Black college in northeast Baltimore, told CNN affiliate WBAL.
“It was chaos.”
The victims – four men and one woman, ages 18 to 22 – were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and one has since been released, Worley said. Four are students, Morgan State University Police Chief Lance Hatcher said.
The nightmare unfolded as a popular homecoming week event was letting out – a violent disruption that marked one of at least 531 mass shootings with at least four victims so far this year in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and one of at least 17 shootings this year at a US college or university, including in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Michigan.
“This is not just a Baltimore thing,” Mayor Brandon Scott, a Democrat, told reporters overnight. “Any mayor in any city will tell you that we have a national problem with guns in the hands of people that should not have them, and we have to handle it in a national way.”
Scott said he does not believe the shooting was racially motivated at this time, noting that the investigation is ongoing. At Morgan State, classes are canceled Wednesday and counselors will be available to students, school President David Wilson said.
“It was so disappointing to learn of what took place, especially after what was a family-filled and fun evening of celebrating the pageantry and beauty of our students,” University President David Wilson said in a statement. “But rest assured, our Morgan family is strong and we will march on with determination to keep moving on.”
He said he and other school officials are meeting to “rethink the rest of Homecoming activities this week.”
Police warned the campus community to stay clear of the area surrounding Thurgood Marshall Hall and the Murphy Fine Arts Center. The Baltimore office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is helping police search for shell casings and additional evidence, it said.
‘I just started fearing for my life’
The Murphy Fine Arts auditorium had been filled almost to capacity Tuesday evening for the crowning of Mr. and Miss Morgan State University – an event that draws families from all over the country, Wilson said, to the school where 9,000 students enrolled last fall.
“Our students at the end of that were headed over to the Student Center to rejoice and to enjoy themselves when this unfortunate situation erupted on the campus,” he said.
Then, gunshots rang out, one student recalled.
David initially thought it was fireworks, he said.
“Then real fear set in and then I realized … this could be an active shooter,” he told the station. “I didn’t know what was going on I just started fearing for my life like everybody else did.”
An upper-floor window of a student dorm was shattered, footage from CNN affiliate WJZ showed. The shooting unfolded outside a building, Worley said without elaborating.
Students and teachers were ordered to shelter in place for hours as the specialized police unit combed the dorm.
Another student, Jason, described struggling at first to reach his family by phone.
“You wanna come to university and feel safe … but things happen and it’s unfortunate that this has to happen with students,” he told WBAL.
“We didn’t open the campus up until our SWAT team had cleared the building where we thought the suspect may have run or where we thought the shot came from,” Worley said. “They cleared every single floor twice.”
The shooting occurred just days before a scheduled candlelight memorial service intended to honor university members who have died over the past year.
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