A student armed with a 12-gauge shotgun opened fire in a California high school on Thursday, critically wounding a fellow student before two staff members talked the boy into putting down his weapon, authorities said.
The suspected sole gunman, a 16-year-old boy, was arrested by police who arrived at Taft Union High School in inland Kern County about a minute after being called, said County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
The shooting comes less than four weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in a December rampage that shocked the nation and has fueled a heated national debate over gun control.
The latest shooting unfolded on Thursday morning at the only senior high school in Taft, a city of about 10,000 people on the southwest edge of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, about 30 miles southwest of Bakersfield.
One student critically wounded by gunfire was airlifted to a nearby hospital, Youngblood said.
The identity of the shooter, who police say walked into a class in progress and opened fire, was not immediately released. The suspect apparently had a disagreement with the student who was critically injured, police said.
The assailant called out the name of another intended target, who was also a student in the class, and he shot at that person, but missed, Youngblood said.
In the chaos, another student received minor injuries while falling over a table trying the flee the classroom, and a fourth student was taken to a hospital with possible hearing damage from the sound of the gun blast, Youngblood said.
The suspected shooter was arrested after a teacher and a school administrator who confronted him persuaded the boy to put his gun down, Youngblood told reporters. Students fled the class while the two adults pacified the shooter, he said.
"The heroics of these two people, it goes without saying," Youngblood said. "To stand there and face someone that has a shotgun, who's already discharged it and shot a student, it speaks volumes for these two young men."
MORE THAN 20 STUDENTS IN CLASSROOM
The shooter had up to 20 shotgun rounds in his pocket, and there were more than 20 students in the classroom, authorities said. The teacher, who has not been named, was hit in the head with a shotgun pellet, but was not seriously wounded, they said.
"I think he saved many lives today," U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who represents the Taft area, told a news conference.
The suspected gunman lives near the school, and he arrived late to campus, Youngblood said. A resident near the school saw him walking toward the campus armed with a shotgun and called authorities, Youngblood said.
An armed police officer is normally assigned to Taft Union High School but was not able to make it to work on Thursday because of snow on the roads, Youngblood said.
Taft school officials had held a lockdown exercise on Thursday ahead of the shooting, in part in response to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, said Taft Union High School District superintendent Bill McDermott. They soon were forced to hold a real lockdown in response to the gunfire, he said.
The violence at the California high school occurred on the same day Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the powerful National Rifle Association as part of his work to develop a plan to reduce gun violence.
Biden, who is heading a task force created in response to the Newtown shooting, will present his proposals to President Barack Obama, who has already signaled his support for reinstating a national ban on assault-style rifles.
The town of Taft, about 100 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, is economically reliant on oil and natural gas production in the area, and oil derricks dot its horizon.