A happy outing took a frightening turn for a group of Buffalo-area boys on their way home from Syracuse last weekend when the van they were traveling in was shot at on the Thruway.
The Little League football team of 13 boys, ages 8 to 10, had just won a regional playoff game, 33-0, and was headed home at about 4 p.m. Sunday when the van's back window was shot out about 30 minutes outside of Syracuse.
Driver Dorian Gaskins, vice president of FATHERS, said he noticed four teens about 15 feet from the side of the road pointing at traffic with what he first thought were rifles.
"I grabbed my cell phone to call 911, and then I saw one of them pump up the gun, and that's when I knew it was a pellet gun or a BB gun," Gaskins said.
As soon as the van passed the teens, the back window was shot out, he said. The teens then scattered and ran. Two of them wore fatigues, while the other two had on jeans and sweat shirts.
"Luckily it didn't hit any of our kids in the head," said L. Nathan Hare, executive director of the Community Action Organization of Erie County.
Hare was not traveling with the team when the incident occurred but spoke with state police the next day. The team is sponsored by the CAO, MAD DAD's Buffalo Chapter and Fathers Armed Together to Help, Educate, Restore and Save.
While describing the incident to a state trooper at the scene, Gaskins said, he heard three more similar emergency calls come in over the trooper's scanner for that stretch of the Thruway.
"These kids were on the side of the road taking target practice at cars," said Gaskins. "Thank God no one was hurt."
The football players were black, and the shooters were white. When asked if the incident was racially motivated, state police told The News on Thursday, "There's no indication this was racially motivated, and the investigation is ongoing." They added that no suspects have been arrested yet.
Meanwhile, a social worker counseled the boys Monday to help them understand what took place and how to deal with it. Also, CAO case managers, who work with boys daily through the organization's after-school program, will continue to talk with theM to make sure they're OK, Hare said.
"These kids come from a community where they hear police sirens and gunshots quite often," he said. "So people think you don't have to counsel these kids when these kinds of things happen.
"But when you don't help kids work this through, that trauma can turn into posttraumatic stress, and that stress begins to work itself out in the kids' behavior. Especially with children, they can start thinking something's wrong with them."