A fight outside Lakewood High School yesterday morning escalated into a full-scale riot inside the building, where nearly 150 students attacked each other, innocent bystanders and even police.
The first officers to respond to the scene were set upon by combatants and needed to call in backup from several surrounding towns. Students said the fight was precipitated by rival black and Hispanic gangs, who had been sparring in recent days.
At its height, the melee featured random attacks on bystanders, students throwing chairs and tables and some officers pinned to the ground.
Police in full riot gear and using pepper spray and dogs finally got things under control after about 20 minutes. Worried parents summoned to the school by cell phone calls from their children found it in a state of siege, and some were arrested when they refused to obey orders from police.
By the time the fracas was over, about a dozen students and adults were arrested, including two “intruders” who instigated the brawl around 10:45 a.m. in a parking lot outside the lunchroom, police and school officials said.
The school was placed in lockdown for about an hour as fighting raged and police conducted mop-up operations. The school remained open, although many parents pulled their children out early. Officials said school would open this morning and warned students to carry their ID cards.
Police were still sorting out what prompted the initial fight, but they and others said it was related to at least one after-school fight last week that contributed to an incident at a party over the weekend.
Ten Lakewood police officers who responded to the initial call of a fight at the Ocean County school were almost immediately overwhelmed by the number of fighting students and called for backup after they were attacked, said Smith.
In all, nearly 75 police officers from five towns donned full riot gear and took to the hallways to end the violence and restore order.
Smith said secondary fights broke out after the outdoor brawl, but it was too early to tell whether the additional fights were gang-related, or simply students taking advantage of an opportunity to fight.
“They began throwing chairs, wrestling with the police. They actually ended up physically on top of our police officers,” Smith said.
Several students said the fight in the parking lot was a continuation of one that started last Wednesday after school between Latino and African-American gang members. That, in turn, led to another fight at a party Saturday.
The high school is roughly 43 percent Hispanic, 36 percent African-American and 19 percent white, according to school enrollment figures.
Smith confirmed that police received the same tips about alleged gang involvement in the brawl, but he said the incident remains under investigation.