TACOMA, Wash. – Hundreds of students were headed for their first classes after the long holiday break when shots rang out in the halls of Henry Foss High School. Within hours, one boy was dead and another was behind bars.
The shooter and victim knew each other but detectives did not yet know a motive for the attack, Police Chief Donald Ramsdell said. Police said the shooting was not believed to be gang related or racially motivated.
"Today we lost a nice young person in a Tacoma public school in an act of senseless violence," Ramsdell said.
The shooting Wednesday morning sent students scrambling. Samnang Kok, 17, lay dying in a hallway as the shooter bolted out a set of double doors.
About two hours later, police arrested fellow student Douglas Chanthabouly, 18, not far from Foss High School. He was booked for investigation of first-degree murder and due in court Thursday. It was not clear if he had a lawyer.
Kok, whose first name means "lucky" or "fortunate" in Cambodian, was born to parents who fled the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge during the 1980s. His weeping mother, Ry Sou, said she was pregnant with him when the family arrived in the United States.
"I came here to raise my family in freedom, and my son goes away from me," she told The Seattle Times.
Kok was also a father — he had an 18-month-old son, Makhai Kok, with his girlfriend, Tiari Johnson, 16, who sobbed as she hugged her little boy in the young man's garage apartment beside the Kok family's home.
"He is everything anybody would ever ask for — smart, nice, kind," she told The News Tribune of Tacoma.
In a tidy house on a cul-de-sac about six miles from the Kok home, Chanthabouly's mother was "crying her eyes out," said the young man's uncle, Soukanh Bounchanh. He said their family, too, was in shock.
"He's a very nice and sweet boy. I don't know what came on him," Bounchanh said. "It's not like he was gang-banging or shooting. Nothing."
Police said Chanthabouly had no criminal record.
Sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said the teen was on suicide watch, which is common in high-profile cases.
After the shooting, an armed school officer radioed police for help as teachers herded students into classrooms and the gymnasium, said Detective Chris Taylor. Three teams of about six officers, each armed with rifles, swept the school to ensure the gunman wasn't still inside.
Sophomores Malcolm Clark and Josh Wilber, both 15, said they saw the shooting and were questioned by police.
"He got shot — bang — and he just fell," Clark said. "He just froze and he fell backwards into the lockers."
Other students "were like, 'Nah, he's playing. He's going to get up,"' Wilber said. "And then the teachers started yelling 'Get in the classroom!"'
Kok died from three shots fired at point-blank range.
The school was locked down after the shooting. Classes were canceled for the rest of the day and students sent home about an hour later.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said the shooting was further evidence that the state needs to complete its school mapping program, an effort to provide emergency responders with up-to-date information about school layouts and evacuation routes.
All of the state's high schools have been mapped; 725 of Washington's public elementary and junior high schools have yet to be, she said.