Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
WEST VALLEY CITY — Two teenagers, ages 14 and 15, were shot and killed on a sidewalk Thursday morning and another teen, also 15, was shot and critically injured.
West Valley police said Thursday that a 14-year-old male believed to be the shooter has been booked into juvenile detention, and the gun believed to be connected to the shooting has been recovered. Three other teens were questioned and released. Police said Thursday that the motive was unclear but that a dispute between two groups had escalated into an altercation prior to the shooting.
On Thursday night, police identified the two who were killed as 15-year-old Paul Tahi and 14-year-old Tivani Lopati. The injured victim, identified by the Granite School District as Ephraim Asiata, remains in critical condition.
The two teens who died were freshmen football players at Hunter High School and the injured teen is a sophomore football player.
The shootings took place about 10:50 a.m. along 4100 South, between the northbound and southbound lanes of the Mountain View Corridor, according to the West Valley police.
Police believe two groups of students who knew each other began fighting along the south side of 4100 South before the gunshots rang out. The suspects in the shooting then ran away from the scene, said West Valley police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku. Investigators don't know exactly why the two groups were fighting, she said.
A cousin of two of the victims told KSL-TV that he didn't know what he was going to do now that they're gone.
"When I was down, they would always say positive things to keep me going," he said. "Now that they're gone, I don't know what I'm going to do without them."
The father of one of the victims said he lost his only son.
A witness to the shooting who asked to be identified as Angela said she was driving on 4100 South when she heard three to four loud bangs, but didn't immediately associate them with gunfire. But then she noticed people scattering and saw two teens, including one carrying a gun.
"There were kids flying everywhere trying to get away!" Angela said. "I saw him shoot at this one kid and I saw him go down and just hit the floor or the ground and he just was in so much pain," she said. "It was the scariest thing ever. And they went over and they kicked him in the head and then they ran away."
The school sent out a voicemail and email to parents, letting them know what happened, and that two students had passed away. Some parents said that they were able to exchange text messages with their children during the lockdown, while others were not able to hear from their kids until they picked them up from school.
Ioane Palataivao has two daughters who attend the school. He said she was so scared when he heard the news for fear that it could have been his daughters.
"You know, I'm scared," Palataivao said. "I don't want anything to happen to my two daughters, you know. It's so sad."
A 4th, and we believe final, suspect is in custody in the shooting of three juveniles. The suspects are males ages 14, 14, 14 & 15. A motive is not yet confirmed, however, it appears that a dispute between two groups escalated into an altercation & ultimately, a shooting. pic.twitter.com/BEu6OXbQSc— WVC Police (@WVCPD) January 13, 2022
Initially, police said three people were taken into custody but later announced that a fourth person had been arrested. Police say three of the boys in custody were 14 and the other was 15. Police said they believe there was no continuing threat to the public.
"As far as I know, the people involved are high school students," Vainuku said, adding that police were in the process of notifying family members of the deceased.
Granite School District tweeted on Thursday night a statement with the current condition of Ephraim Asiata, the injured 15-year-old boy, and asked for prayers on behalf of him and the families of Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati.
"Principal (Ryan) Oaks recently spoke with the Asiata Family and they indicated that he remains in critical condition and the family would appreciate prayers in behalf of their son, nephew, and cousin," district officials said in the tweet. "As a school and district community, we also ask that you keep the families of Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati in your hearts, thoughts and prayers, and that we work to support them in any way we can. There are many children and families who are struggling this evening as a result of this senseless tragedy."
UPDATE on condition of Ephraim Asiata and a message from his family. pic.twitter.com/CdBg8n9D7k— Granite School Dist. (@GraniteSchools) January 14, 2022
School district spokesman Ben Horsley encouraged students in need to speak to grief counselors who are available through the Granite School District. Counselors will be available all day Friday at Hunter High and Hunter Junior High for any child who needs help and support, according to the district's tweet.
"Our hearts are broken that this occurred," Horsley said.
Gov. Spencer Cox released a statement offering prayers for the victims, families and students.
"We're heartbroken about today's shooting in West Valley City," Cox said. "Our prayers are with the victims, the families, students and everyone impacted by this senseless act of violence."
Nearby roads were closed while the shooting was being investigated, but have since been reopened.
The shooting led several nearby schools to temporarily shelter in place, including Hunter High School, Hunter Junior High School, Hillside Elementary School and Whittier Elementary School. Those orders were lifted just after noon, except for Hunter High. Students there were released from classes and allowed to go home around 12:45 p.m.
Contributing: Matt Rascon, Arianne Brown