NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/21/2011 9:16:34 PM ET 2011-10-22T01:16:34

A gunman opened fire on a street as students were let out of school Friday afternoon, killing one parent who had tried to shield children from harm and injuring an 11-year-old girl and another parent, police and school officials said.

The shooting happened at about 2:30 p.m. Police told The New York Times that a man fired at least a dozen shots with an automatic pistol onto Watkins Street from the top of a five-story building on Pitkin Avenue.

A 34-year-old woman, Zurana Horton, who had hovered over students to protect them as shots were fired, was struck in the face and chest and was pronounced dead at the scene. A 31-year-old woman was hit in an arm and the chest and was hospitalized.

The 11-year-old girl, a sixth-grader at the Brooklyn school, injured one of her arms and had a graze wound on her cheek.

The girl's mother told NBC New York that "her face is opened up and she's scared to death. She's only a little girl."

The child's aunt said "somebody has died, my niece could have died, and another woman along with that could have died."

The family pleaded for people to come forward if they have information about the shooters.

The victims were not related, police said.

The two women and several children were outside the Peanut Lucky Supermarket, the Times said, diagonally across the street from the back of the elementary school when the gunshots rang out.

Horton “was seen moments before she was shot, hovering over several children to protect them as the shots were fired,” police spokesman Paul J. Browne told the Times. “She probably saved lives.”

Seven shell casings from a 9mm semi-automatic pistol were found on the nearby rooftop. Five other shell casings were found on the sidewalk in the front of that building, police said.

Three men were seen fleeing the scene, and police were questioning at least one person.

Police offered a $12,000 reward for information in the case, Browne said.

He told the Times that police believe the shooting was related to a fight between at least two groups of teenagers on the street who were “throwing things at each other.”

The school's neighborhood, Brownsville, is in southeastern Brooklyn and is among the most crime-plagued in the city. It's also where tens of thousands of people, mostly black and Hispanic men, are stopped, questioned and frisked annually by police. Critics say the men are being unfairly targeted, and only about 10 percent of stops city-wide result in arrest.

Police say the tactic is a necessary crime-fighting tool that helps get illegal guns off the streets.

"Police conduct stops of individuals evincing suspicious behavior in areas where shootings occur in order to prevent, or at least lower, the frequency of tragedies like the one in Brownsville today," Browne said.

This article includes reporting from The Associated Press, Chris Glorioso of NBC New York and msnbc.com staff.

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