TAFT, Calif. — A 16-year-old student armed with a shotgun walked into a rural California high school Thursday, shot one student and fired at others and missed before a teacher and another staff member talked him into surrendering, officials said.
The teen victim was in critical condition, and the suspect, whose pockets were stuffed with ammunition, was being interrogated, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said late Thursday.
The suspect used a shotgun that belonged to his brother and went to bed Wednesday night with a plan to shoot two fellow students, Youngblood said.
Surveillance video shows the shooter trying to conceal the gun as he nervously entered Taft Union High School through a side entrance after school had started Thursday morning.
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When the shots were fired, teacher Ryan Heber tried to get more than two dozen students out a back door and engaged the shooter in conversation to distract him, Youngblood said. Campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields responded to a call of shots fired and also began talking to the teen.
“They talked him into putting that shotgun down. He in fact told the teacher, ‘I don’t want to shoot you,’ and named the person that he wanted to shoot,” Youngblood said.
“The heroics of these two people goes without saying. … They could have just as easily … tried to get out of the classroom and left students, and they didn’t,” the sheriff said. “They knew not to let him leave the classroom with that shotgun.”
The shooter didn’t show up for first period and then interrupted the class of 28 students.
Youngblood said the suspect said the two students he targeted had bullied him for more than a year, but the sheriff couldn’t confirm it.
“Certainly he believed that the two people he targeted had bullied him, in his mind. Whether that occurred or not we don’t know yet,” Youngblood said.
The Sheriff’s Department did not release the boy’s name because he was a juvenile and had yet to be charged. But many students and community members said they knew the boy and said he was often teased,
“He comes off as the kind of kid who would do something like this,” said Alex Patterson, 18, who went to Taft before graduating last year. “He talked about it a lot, but nobody thought he would.”
Trish Montes, who lived next door to the suspect, said he was “a short guy” and “small” who was teased about his stature by many, including the victim.
“Maybe people will learn not to bully people,” Montes said. “I hate to be crappy about it, but that kid was bullying him.”
Montes said her son had worked at the school and tutored the boy last year, sometimes walking with him between classes because he felt sorry for him.
“All I ever heard about him was good things from my son,” Montes said. “He wasn’t Mr. Popularity, but he was a smart kid. ”
The wounded student was hospitalized in Bakersfield and listed in critical condition late Thursday. Officials said another student was hospitalized with possible hearing damage because the shotgun was fired close to her ear, and another girl suffered minor injuries during the scramble to flee when she fell over a table.
Officials said there’s usually an armed officer on campus, but the person wasn’t there because he was snowed in. Taft police officers arrived within 60 seconds of first reports.
Bakersfield television station KERO reported receiving phone calls from people inside the school who hid in closets. About 900 students are enrolled at the high school, which includes ninth through 12th grades.
Taft is about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that her father had attended Taft Union and she has visited the school over the years.
“At this moment my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and I wish them a speedy recovery,” Feinstein said. “But how many more shootings must there be in America before we come to the realization that guns and grievances do not belong together?”