After shooting, no more parties

Published 9:45 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

WINDSOR — One of the owners of the Windsor School of Dance, the scene of Saturday’s shooting that seriously wounded a 17-year-old boy, said Thursday that the Suffolk woman who rented the facility at the time of the incident was trying to find a safe place to throw a birthday party for her 18-year-old son.

But the pleasant celebration that the woman envisioned turned into a nightmare after kids who weren’t invited to the party started showing up. Some of them were allegedly gang members from Suffolk who fought and eventually started shooting at each other in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, the dance studio’s owners have reportedly been informed by both a town official and their landlord that they are no longer permitted to rent the facility for private parties.

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Rhonda Demsko, who co-owns the Windsor School of Dance with Jessica Cannavo, said Thursday that the woman who rented her dance studio Saturday was “a very nice lady from Suffolk,” who wanted to “move (her son’s) birthday party out of town to Isle of Wight,” because it was a safer venue.

Demsko said the woman, whom she did not identify, promised there would be adult chaperones and no alcohol at the party.

“There were plenty of adults there,” Demsko said.

But the celebration got out of control when the party, which Demsko said was originally planned for about 50 people, swelled to a crowd of at least 200 by police estimates after others were invited through cell phone calls and text messages.

“These kids took it upon themselves to invite others,” Demsko said. “Kids called, and kids came, and kids called, and kids came. It got out of control. (The woman hosting the party) couldn’t control that.”

Demsko said the woman cut the lights off at 10:30 p.m. in an attempt to get people to leave. She was outside when the shooting started and “was hiding under one the cars, scared, herself,” Demsko said.

According to Demsko, after the shots rang out several teens climbed into cars and left the East Windsor Boulevard scene. Many others fled into the building. Demsko said that when police arrived, about 40 to 50 people were taking shelter in the building.

“The police started questioning everyone,” Demsko said. “They would let a few of them out at a time.”

Two juveniles from Suffolk were arrested Tuesday and face charges of malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, shooting from a motor vehicle, conspiracy to commit a felony, unlawful possession of a firearm, shooting at an occupied building, and discharging a firearm in a public place. Additional charges are reportedly pending.

Police are also looking for a third suspect, 21-year-old Dijon Quartez Elliott, of Nancy Drive in Suffolk. Elliot is charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, accessory to the commission of a felony, and gang related offenses.

On Monday, Michael Stallings, the planning and zoning administrator for the town of Windsor, wrote Demsko saying that he had “determined (the) establishment to be a dance hall,” due to the nature of several after-hours functions held there. Stallings said that town code requires a conditional use permit for a dance hall.

But Stallings added that the town’s code also requires that “such use be no less than 250 feet from the nearest residence.” Since there are homes within that 250-foot limit, he added, the town council “could not approve a conditional use permit.”

“Because of the … violations of the (town) code, the Town of Windsor requires you to immediately cease and desist any and all after-hour functions at your establishment,” Stallings wrote.

Additionally, in a letter dated Dec. 9, Windsor Office Group LLC – the company that owns the strip mall that houses the Windsor School of Dance – informed the dance studio’s owners that “due to the recent and past shootings, violence, and property damage at your leased space, the Windsor School of Dance will no longer be able to rent the leased premises for parties or other functions. The leased premises will only be able to be used as a dance school and related activities. Any violation will be means for termination of the leased space.”

Demsko said that she and Cannavo had decided before being notified by their landlord and the town that they would no longer rent the facility for parties.

“This was not worth it,” Demsko said, adding that both she and Cannavo were on the scene assisting authorities with their investigation until about 7 a.m. Sunday. Demsko said that Windsor residents “are very lucky to have the police and emergency personnel they have. They had their act together.”

Demsko said the dance studio had been rented out more than 100 times previously, sometimes to church groups.

But no more.

“It was a bad decision,” Demsko said. “I’m very upset about it. I’m responsible. I’m not a derelict person at all.”

Authorities are asking anyone with any information regarding this crime, or who knows the whereabouts of Elliott, to contact the Isle of Wight County Crime Line at 357-5555, or the Windsor Police Department at 357-2151.