Records show JCPS and LMPD failed to act as danger grew at Tyree Smith’s bus stop
In the weeks following the homicide of Louisville 16-year-old Tyree Smith at his school bus stop, the public sphere was a dizzying blame game. The Louisville Metro Police Department blamed Jefferson County Public Schools for failing to keep Tyree safe. Meanwhile school officials pointed fingers at local police, saying off-campus street corners are theirs to keep secure.
In the aftermath Tyree’s sister made an unsettling allegation: The crime that resulted in her brother’s death wasn’t the first shooting at the bus stop.
Tyree’s sister, then 14 years old, told WDRB students reported a previous shooting to school officials, but security was never provided.
More than a year later, LPM News has obtained records showing Tyree’s sister was telling the truth.
Documents show that the school district and LMPD were not only aware of an earlier shooting, JCPS also knew about other ongoing threats to the students on Tyree’s bus. But despite warnings from students and calls from parents, district officials and police threw up their hands and wrote off the danger as a given in Tyree’s neighborhood.
“I hate to feel like that if these kids wasn't in the West End and I called, my concern would have been taken more serious,” Tyree’s mother, Sherita Smith, told LPM News in a September 2022 interview.
Smith, who is suing school officials, believes that had JCPS acted with more urgency, her son may still be alive.
Students report previous shooting to school leaders
On the morning of Sept. 7, 2021, Tyree, his sister, and a third student made their usual pre-dawn trek to the corner of Dr. W. J. Hodge and Chestnut Streets. That’s where they caught JCPS Bus 2080 for the long ride across town to Eastern High School.
Tyree’s younger sister has been identified by name in previous media reports. However, LPM is not using her name for this story at the request of her family to protect her privacy.
Sherita Smith told LPM News as the students neared the bus stop, a group of older boys appeared and told them to move to the opposite side of the street.
That’s what Tyree's sister told WDRB, too, in 2021.
The boys went through an alley, and Sherita Smith says, according to her daughter, they shot at a different group of students near the stop.
A report from the city’s gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter, confirms gunfire at 6:23 a.m. at the location Smith and her daughter described, less than a block from the bus stop.
Students made it onto the bus without being hit.
When Smith’s daughter arrived at school, administrators called her and two other students from Bus 2080 into a meeting with Eastern High School Assistant Principal Steven Hawes.
“My daughter told them in that statement in the meeting that she don't feel safe,” Smith said.
Smith said her daughter told administrators that a student was the target. However, that is not the narrative administrators passed on to law enforcement.
In emails obtained by LPM News, Hawes told JCPS’ Security and Investigations Unit that the shooters were aiming at a house, and not a student.
Hawes did not respond to emails from LPM News asking about the discrepancy.
“Students very reluctant to write statements. Did talk to me about the situation,” Hawes wrote to JCPS Security and Investigations Investigator Joye Keeley at 10:14 a.m on Sept. 7.
JCPS redacted the students names in records provided to LPM News to protect their privacy, as they are minors.
“Two men on foot a[t] first talked to student [redacted], [redacted] [redacted]. Told students to go across the street. One student feels like they were telling them to get out the way. Two males then got [into] a car and slowly [rode] by the students as they were walking to the stop. Car then entered the alley and that’s when shots were heard. One student thinks they were shooting at a house that was previously shot at,” Hawes’ email to Keeley reads.
“We are sending out a messenger [text and email alert] to riders of 2080 just saying we are aware of an incident and working with district security on the situation.”
Hawes ended his email with a request.
“Is it possible to get an LMPD car at the stop this afternoon?”
According to Smith’s daughter, that request went ungranted: She said there was no police car or law enforcement presence on the corner of Dr. W. J. Hodge and Chestnut when students got home from school that day, or any other.
Email records show that after the Sept. 7 shooting, JCPS staff engaged in little follow-up with LMPD to provide security for the students who rode Bus 2080.
In response to Hawes’ email and request for an LMPD car at the stop on the afternoon of the Sept. 7 shooting, Keeley responded, “Thank you. That clarifies a lot for me. Any more info, just let me know.”
The next day, Hawes followed up by email.
“Did you ever hear anything from LMPD about gun fire situation near stop at 21st and Chestnut?” Hawes wrote to Keeley. Dr. W.J. Hodge Street is also known as 21st Street.
Hours later, Keeley replied:
“I did not, but i will ask again. Thanks for the reminder. In hiring interviews all week and my juggling skills are not keeping up.”
Later that afternoon Keeley reported back: “[LMPD officer] Sgt. Nagle just emailed me and told me officers were dispatched but found nothing upon arrival. She did say it was an area they get a lot of hits from their Shot Spotter, not just that day but often.”
JCPS records show no further communication between Hawes and Keeley about the incident, and records from LMPD show police never formally investigated the shooting.
Two weeks later Tyree was shot and killed on the same corner in a drive-by while waiting for his school bus. There was no security present, and the street corner was dimly lit, despite a request to the city a week earlier to put in a streetlight.
Two other students were physically injured in the shooting, and many, including Tyree’s sister, will carry the emotional scars of the crime for the rest of their lives.
Citing ongoing litigation, JCPS declined to answer any questions for this LPM News investigation as to why officials did not follow through on providing security.
“As you know, there has been a significant increase in violent crime in this community and there is pending litigation against the school district involving this tragic incident,” JCPS spokesperson Carolyn Callahan wrote in an emailed statement.
“It is our practice not to comment on pending litigation and on matters that will be resolved in the Court system.”
In court filings, attorneys for the JCPS staff deny all allegations of wrongdoing.
“Defendants admit that … they were generally aware of gangs existing across Jefferson County in August 2021 and generally aware that some students at Eastern High School may have identified with certain gangs or Jefferson County neighborhoods,” school district attorneys write in their response to Smith’s lawsuit. “Otherwise, Defendants deny the allegations.”
Asked why police did not provide security themselves or open an investigation into the Sept. 7, 2021, shooting, LMPD spokesperson Angela Ingram sent an emailed statement:
“The death of Tyree Smith was a horrific tragedy. LMPD has no further comment at this time.”
Pattern of violence points to ongoing threat
As if the Sept. 7 shooting weren’t enough to warn JCPS and LMPD of safety issues on Bus 2080, Smith and her attorneys say other incidents documented by school district officials suggest a threat had been brewing for weeks — a threat never communicated to Smith or other parents.
The first hint of a safety concern appears in an Aug. 26, 2021, email from JCPS head of Security and Investigations Stan Mullen. Mullen emailed Security and Investigations staff, transportation staff and other central office administrators to say he got a concerning call from Eastern High School’s principal.
According to Mullen’s email, one student on Bus 2080 threatened to shoot another student who rode the same bus.
Emails show school officials called the two students’ parents and “directed them not to let their children ride the bus and bring them to school.” Emails also show school personnel discussed completing a “Threat Assessment Matrix,” a tool JCPS uses to evaluate how to respond to threats of violence and whether to involve law enforcement.
LPM News asked for the completed threat assessment, but the district denied the request on the grounds that it could provide “potential terrorist actors with insight into how threats of this kind are categorized.”
A week later, on Sept. 2, district correspondence shows a brutal beating took place on the loading dock at Eastern High School involving students of Bus 2080.
In an email to central office staff, Hawes, the assistant principal, said around dismissal, he saw four students get off Bus 2080 and confront a student from Bus 1167.
“The students were yelling profanity and flashing gang signs at one another,” Hawes wrote. Then, Hawes said, the four students from Bus 2080 jumped the student from the other bus. An account from Eastern High School Head of Security Barry Goodall described students kicking and punching the victim while he lay on the ground.
After Goodall and other staff broke up the fight, Goodall took three of the students involved into a classroom to calm down, according to a JCPS email obtained by LPM News.
“They all three called their parents on their cell phones and began explaining to their parents that they jumped a student because he was disrespecting them by waving a red bandanna at them and claimed he was a blood gang member. They also said REDACTED was disrespecting their dead friends,” Goodall wrote in the statement.
Tyree witnessed that beating too, according to his parents. He came home shocked and needed to talk about it.
“He didn’t understand why they was doing him like that,” Tyree’s stepfather Eric Shirley told LPM News. “It was really bad.”
The only reason Tyree’s parents knew about the incident was because their son told them. Smith and Shirley said JCPS staff never notified them about the loading dock fight or told parents that a gang-related threat was brewing on their children's bus.
A week later on Sept. 7 came the first shooting near the bus stop, in which Tyree’s sister said the shooters were targeting one of their fellow riders.
Eastern High School staff did alert families about the Sept. 7 shooting in an email. Smith called the school two times that day to ask for more information and express concern. Both times she was told no one was available to take her call.
Emails show yet another incident occurred on Sept. 13, 2021. Eastern High School Assistant Principal Gregory Herberger emailed a video to JCPS Security and Investigations about an assault on Bus 2080. The video is redacted in the records LPM News obtained.
“Unfortunately, they [the students] are unwilling to write statements. The driver is working on a statement, but he did share that the boys who committed the assault did follow the victim off the bus, including through the back emergency door, and it was the incorrect stop for all involved except the victim,” Herberger wrote.
JCPS never alerted parents about the Sept.13 assault, Smith said.
LPM News asked for all emails and records relating to safety incidents involving Bus 2080. Those records show that staff only discussed completing a threat assessment after the Aug. 26 verbal threat — not after the gang-related beating on Sept. 2, not after the shooting the week later, and not after the assault the week after that.
Because students’ names are redacted, it’s unclear from JCPS documents if these incidents are directly connected to the Sept. 22 shooting in which Tyree and two others were caught in the crossfire.
Neither the Sept. 7 shooting, nor any other Bus 2080 incident before Sept. 22 are mentioned in prosecutors’ case against Tyree’s alleged shooters.
But Smith and her attorneys believe they are connected.
‘Maybe if I knew more, I could have did more’
Had the school district been more forthcoming about safety issues they were aware of involving students on Bus 2080, Smith and her husband, Eric Shirley, believe their son Tyree might still be alive.
“If I knew that all these fights keep happening … centering someone on this bus, I would have been like ‘Hey, y’all, probably need to change schools, or we need to take you [to school]. Something needs to happen,'” Smith said.
It’s why Smith filed a lawsuit in August against district staff and one state official for their alleged failure to provide security or inform parents of the potential danger their children were in.
“Prior to Tyree’s murder, Defendants had direct knowledge of threats to shoot a target child at the bus stop on 21st and Chestnut and failed to take safety … measures or issue adequate warning,” Smith’s complaint reads.
Smith is particularly upset by the way the district responded to the Sept. 7 shooting, two weeks before Tyree was killed. She said Eastern High School staff refused to give her more information about the incident and brushed her off with boilerplate assurances — assurances that were ultimately empty.
Smith first heard about the shooting on Sept. 7 in an email from school administrators.
“Eastern families,” the 10:55 a.m. email reads, “Upon arrival to school students from Bus 2080 notified us that they heard gunshots in the area close to the bus stop at 21st and Chestnut. We immediately began investigating and are working with JCPS Security to find out more details and potentially involve law enforcement. Please be assured that the safety and well-being of our students is our priority. If you have any questions, please call the school.”
Panicked, Smith immediately called Eastern. The receptionist who answered told her no one was available.
“They’re like, ‘Oh they’re in a meeting, they’re going to figure out what they’re going to do about it.’”
Later that afternoon, Smith said Tyree and his sister came home “in an uproar.”
Her children told her the shooters were aiming at students they rode Bus 2080 with.
“The mother in me was just immediately like, ‘No, you have a right to go to school!’”
She called a second time. Again — Smith said — the receptionist told her administrators were unavailable because they were in a meeting.
She said she told the receptionist a student was being shot at on their bus stop, and asked if there was anyone “higher up” she could speak with.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We’re going to make sure we get to a resolution today,’” Smith said.
Having tried to call twice, and believing administrators would do all they could to protect her children, Smith let it go — a decision that twists Smith’s insides to this day.
“Maybe I should have done furthermore investigation,” she told LPM in September 2022, second-guessing herself a year later. “But who would think if the school officials already know about it that there’s more that I need to do? … They already said ‘they ensure our kids safety,’ ‘they have a right to be safe on the bus stop’, and that’s their ‘top priority’. So in my mind, I was at ease.”
Had she known that the district wasn’t taking concrete steps to secure the stop, she said she would have driven Tyree and his sister to school herself, or kept them home.
“I just always feel like maybe if I knew more, I could have did more,” she said. “It shouldn't take us to lose a child for JCPS to start notifying parents of issues, instead of sending them a watered-down email and not addressing it once you call the school.”
She noted that staff wasted no time earlier in the year to call home about her daughter’s dress code violation — wearing leggings.
“It was no reason that they couldn't call and say, ‘Hey, threats are being made to someone on this bus stop — you may want to keep your kid home,’” she said.
‘The only thing they offered her was the door’
After taking time off to grieve her brother, Tyree’s sister wanted to go back to Eastern High School. She was hurting, Smith said, but wanted to be around her friends and the school community she knew.
Two days after she returned, Smith got a call from Eastern High School Principal Heather Orman telling her she needed to take her daughter out of Eastern and transfer her to the district’s online school, known as the Pathfinder School of Innovation.
She said Eastern never offered her daughter counseling.
“The only thing they offered her was the door,” Smith said.
Smith’s daughter didn’t want to go to an online school, and Smith tried to argue with Orman. But the principal was adamant, Smith said. The only explanation she offered was that the school wanted to wait until more was learned in the investigation to have her daughter there in person.
A JCPS spokesperson did not answer questions about the transfer, citing ongoing litigation. The spokesperson also declined to answer questions about whether it’s common practice to transfer victims of gun violence to online school.
An email to Orman seeking comment was not returned.
Smith believes Eastern transferred her daughter as punishment for speaking out about earlier shootings at the bus stop.
“I feel like it was an act of retaliation. Like, ‘You're talking, you're saying too much, and you need to stay home,’” she said.
Believing her daughter needed to be around other kids her age, Smith eventually got her 14-year-old out of the online school. She found a JCPS administrator who helped her place the ninth-grader at another in-person high school
According to court documents, police believe that Moore and Cable shot up the bus stop in September 2021, aiming for another teenager who Moore had allegedly shot and injured months earlier. Instead, they hit three other students, including Tyree.
Police are also charging Moore and Cable in connection to the fatal shooting of Cortez Duncan in November 2021, two months after the bus stop shooting. Reporting from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealedpolice were honing in on the two teens as early as October 2021.
Smith knew school officials were unhappy she and her daughter had told the media about the Sept. 7 bus stop shooting. In fact, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio called Smith to tell her so.
According to Smith, she was on her way to the funeral home to make arrangements for Tyree, when she received a call from Pollio.
“I didn't even get to bury my son before Mr. Marty Pollio called me and verbatim told me that what I'm saying about … prior shootings wasn't true,” Smith told LPM News in a 2022 interview.
Smith said Pollio told her he pulled the ShotSpotter report for the Sept. 7 incident and that it was a domestic violence situation, and that no students were shot at.
Smith hung up, numb. Later, she got angry.
“I said, ‘This is really horrible that he called me like that,’” Smith told LPM News. All Pollio had to do, Smith said, was ask the JCPS Security and Investigations Team or staff at Eastern High School about the incident, which is documented in emails.
“He didn’t do his homework,” she said.
LPM News requested records for all ShotSpotter reports for Sept. 7, 2021, and corresponding incident reports. There is a shot reported matching the time and location of the bus stop shooting, but there is no corresponding incident report. Other reports for that day contain hardly any detail, and include no mention of domestic violence.
As with all other questions LPM News asked JCPS about this case, the district declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Pollio did not return an email sent to him personally.
LMPD did not explain why they did not open a formal investigation into the Sept. 7 shooting.
For Smith, the call from Pollio was another instance in which she felt shrugged off.
In her lawsuit, Smith is asking for damages for alleged negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and outrageous conduct. In addition, lawyers are asking for a jury to decide whether the district should compensate the family for Tyree’s pain and suffering and his medical and funeral expenses.
But for Smith, it’s not about the money.
“My main priority is not to cash in or try to hurt Eastern High School,” she said.
“I just wish something good comes out of this — that they take the next parent’s concern more serious.”
In addition to institutional changes, Smith wants an apology from Pollio and a copy of her son’s honorary high school diploma.
“His life meant something,” Smith said.
Jacob Ryan contributed to this reporting.
Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.