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After-school brawls prompt police to boost presence at Citadel

By Dwayne Parker, Reporter, DParker@wfmz.com
Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 29 2013 03:56:46 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 02 2013 04:08:46 AM CDT

The Reading School District's Easter break could pose an obstacle for police as they try to get to the bottom of a series of fights that erupted among students across the city, all captured on cell phone video.

READING, Pa. -

The Reading School District's Easter break could pose an obstacle for police as they try to get to the bottom of a series of fights that erupted among students across the city, all captured on cell phone video.

Many of the students are believed to be students at the Citadel, the district's intermediate high school.

Since Wednesday was the last day of school before the Easter break, authorities will have to rely on their patience.

"We haven't really gained any intelligence from the school buildings that we usually get after an incident like this occurs," said Sgt. John Solecki, Reading Police Dept.

The fights started at North 13th and Douglass streets. Similar fights then erupted throughout the city, including City Park, police said.

Investigators are freeze-framing video, trying to identify individuals holding baseball bats, 2-by-4's, and even pieces of furniture.

They also want to know who the fighters are, some of whom shut down intersections like 11th and Franklin, as shown on cell phone video posted on Facebook.

When school resumes Tuesday, increased police presence is expected at the Citadel, while investigators try to figure out what sparked the fights, officials said.

"You have individuals in the crowd that are holding those types weapons. We're just fortunate that no one was seriously injured," said Solecki.

The recorded brawls drew reaction from city leaders Friday. Shock and awe were the reaction from city council members and the mayor after they watched video of the fights.

"It's scary for the kids. It's scary for residents," said Councilwoman Donna Reed.

Shock turned to outrage after learning 75 to 100 teenagers cheered as students threw punches and tackled one another to the ground.

"I was really horrified that that type of violence can occur anywhere, and that young people are putting themselves at risk," said Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz.

Mayor Vaughn Spencer called the fights unacceptable and said he's concerned the teenagers' behavior has been glorified on Facebook and YouTube.

"It's going to have to be a community discussion because there are parents involved, and neighbors are concerned as to what's taking place in front of their properties," said Spencer.

Students told 69 News the massive melees after school were fueled by an on-going turf war. In particular, north side vs. south side.

"The question, are you safe in your own home really becomes a major question when this kind of gang and mob activity is occurring right outside your front door?" asked Reed.

"They need to be able to look at how to respect their turf and how to use them productively, rather than fighting over them and causing violence," said Goodman-Hinnershitz.

Since students were armed with 2-by-4's, baseball bats, bricks and bottles, Councilman Stratton Marmarou called on the cops.

"You must add police. I don't care where you find the money. We may have to up taxes, but we need to find more money to put more people out on the street," said Marmarou.

Spencer said he plans to meet with school district officials, including the superintendent, to curb the violence and prevent something like this from happening again.