Published August 27, 2012
PERRY HALL, Md. – A 15-year-old student opened fire on the first day of classes at a Baltimore County high school Monday, getting off two shots and wounding a classmate before being rushed by teachers, authorities said.
The assailant was taken into custody after the shooting and was cooperating with investigators, police said. Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said police do not believe the shooter was targeting the victim, a 17-year-old male. Johnson did not identify the type of weapon the shooter used.
Jordan Coates, a 17-year-old student who was in the cafeteria at the time of the shooting, said the student used a shotgun.
The shooter walked into the cafeteria of the Perry Hall High School about 10:45 a.m., Johnson said. He fired one shot before being grabbed by teachers, and then another shot went off, the police chief said.
Johnson said the shooter acted alone. He did not answer questions about a possible motive.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said it was too early to know what charges the shooter would face. Police said they would work with prosecutors to determine whether he would be charged as an adult.
The victim remained in critical condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Monday evening, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The suspect's father spoke to a reporter at his home Monday evening and said his son was the shooter. The Associated Press is not identifying the teen or his family because he is a juvenile and has not been charged. When asked about a motive for the shooting, the father indicated his son had been bullied. He gave no further details.
A woman who was also at the home and said she was related to the father, gave the following statement on the family's behalf: "We are horrified. We did not see this coming and our thoughts and prayers are with the victim and the victim's family."
No one answered the door Monday evening at the home of the alleged shooter's mother. A sign at the house said, "We don't call 911" and had a carved relief of a gun.
Coates said he watched teachers, including guidance counselor Jesse Wasmer, pin the student against a vending machine.
"My back was to the door. I heard a pop and thought it was a bag because people do that, but then I heard another one," Coates said. "And I turned around and a teacher had a kid pinned up against the vending machine, and I saw the barrel, and another shot goes off and people just start running."
Coates credited Wasmer with helping to stop the shooting, and numerous students went on Twitter to thank him.
"He grabbed the gun from the kid and got him" until other teachers came over, Coates said.
"We have some heroic and brave faculty members," Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said. "They responded very quickly to minimize damage."
Kelsey Long, a junior at Perry Hall who was in the cafeteria, said she also thought the first gunshot was someone popping a bag.
"But then we heard it again and again and everyone started screaming and ran out to the front of the school," Long told the AP in a Twitter message.
Detectives were interviewing the suspect Monday afternoon, Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. Officers spent several hours searching the school and found no other weapons or suspicious materials, she said.
Although no one other than the 17-year-old was shot, several people suffered cuts and bruises in the ensuing chaos, Armacost said.
The school was evacuated, and students were escorted to a nearby shopping center and middle school.
Perry Hall is a middle-class community along the Interstate 95 corridor, northeast of Baltimore city. The school is the largest in the county, with 2,200 students.
County Councilman David Marks, who lives next door to the school, said he had received dozens of phone calls and text messages from worried parents and residents.
"This is a very comfortable, very safe community, and it's an excellent high school," said Marks, who graduated from Perry Hall. "I think this is an aberration, but clearly one that is horrifying, particularly on the first day of school."
Police planned to provide additional security when the school reopens on Tuesday, and stress counselors were called in to work with students, faculty and staff.
Television coverage showed scores of police cars surrounding the school and parked on neighborhood streets. A group of officers with weapons drawn staked out a corner of the building, one of them lying prone on the ground and appearing to cover a particular area of the campus. Hundreds of students streamed away from the school.
Cathy Le, 15, said students were panicking as they tried to find out what was happening. They texted and called each other frantically as they were locked in their classrooms for more than an hour, she said.
At the scene, buses, emergency vehicles and parents in cars filled the roadway between a nearby middle school where parents were told to meet their children and the shopping center. There were obvious signs of relief displayed as parents found their children.
Kristin Kraus, whose son James attends the school, described hearing about the shooting as "absolute terror." However, Kraus said, "within a couple of minutes he texted my husband that he was OK."
Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols and Eric Tucker in Washington and Brian Witte in Baltimore contributed to this report.