January 11, 2013

Student tells teacher: 'I don't want to shoot you'

The teacher and another staffer then talk the armed teenager into putting down a shotgun and giving himself up.

Tracie Cone / The Associated Press

TAFT, Calif. — The 16-year-old boy had allegedly wounded the teenager he claimed had bullied him, fired two more rounds at students fleeing their first-period science class, then faced teacher Ryan Heber.

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Paramedics transport a student wounded during a shooting Thursday at a high school in Taft, Calif. Police said a student was shot and another student was taken into custody.

The Associated Press

"I don't want to shoot you," he told the popular teacher, who was trying to coax the teen into giving up the shotgun he still held.

Recounting the suspect's words, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said the confrontation was enough of a distraction to give 28 students time to escape their classroom Thursday at a California high school.

The violence came just minutes after administrators had announced new lockdown safety procedures prompted by the Newtown, Conn., school slayings.

"Just 10 minutes before it happened our teachers were giving us protocol because of what happened in Connecticut," said student Oscar Nuno, who was across campus from the science building at Taft Union High School when an announcer on the PA system said the school was under lock down "and it was not a drill."

The teen victim, who classmates said played football last year for the Taft Wildcats, was in critical but stable condition at a Kern County hospital Thursday night. He was expected to undergo surgery on Friday.

The suspect surrendered his shotgun to Heber and campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields. His pockets were stuffed with more ammunition, said Youngblood.

"This teacher and this counselor stood there face-to-face not knowing if he was going to shoot them," Youngblood said. "They probably expected the worst and hoped for the best, but they gave the students a chance to escape."

Heber's forehead had been grazed by a stray pellet, but Youngblood said the teacher who had graduated from the Taft school two decades ago was unaware he had been hit.

"He's the nicest teacher I know," Nuno said. "He loves his students and he always wants to help."

The shooting shocked residents of this remote town of 9,400 that sits amid tumbleweeds and oil fields about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

"We know each other here," said former mayor Dave Noerr. "We drive pickups and work hard and hunt and fish. This is a grassroots town. This is the last place you'd think something like this would happen."

The 16-year-old's name is on the lips of everyone in town, but authorities aren't releasing it because he's a juvenile. He had felt bullied by the victim for more than a year, said Youngblood, who added that the claim was still being investigated.

Trish Montes described her neighbor as "a short guy" and "small" who was teased about his stature by many.

Montes said her son had worked at the school and tutored the boy last year.

"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. It's a shame. My kid said he was like a genius."

On Wednesday night the teen went home and plotted revenge, Youngblood said. He found a gun that authorities believe belonged to the suspect's older brother, and went to bed that night plotting revenge against two students.

"He planned the event," Youngblood said. "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."

The suspect arrived after 9 a.m., and video surveillance cameras captured him looking nervous as he entered through a side door, Youngblood said. He made his way to the second floor of the school's science building, where Heber's class with 28 students inside was under way.

(Continued on page 2)

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