Sparks police secure the scene of a shooting on Woodhaven Lane in Sparks, Nevada October 21, 2013. Credit: Reuters
A 12-year-old student armed with a handgun shot and killed a teacher and wounded two classmates before killing himself at his middle school in Nevada shortly before classes began on Monday, law enforcement officials said.
Both of the wounded students from Sparks Middle School were rushed to Renown Regional Medical Center in nearby Reno, where one of them underwent emergency surgery, said Tom Miller, acting Sparks police chief.
The Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper identified the slain school staff member as 45-year-old math teacher Michael Landsberry, quoting the man's sister-in-law. Authorities did not immediately name the teacher.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene at the school in the northwestern Nevada town of Sparks, located just east of Reno, after the gunfire erupted in an outdoor area as students were arriving for the school day.
"A kid started getting mad and he pulled out a gun and shoots my friend, one of my friends at least," a seventh-grade student identified as Andrew told local KOLO-TV. "And then he walked up to a teacher and says back up, the teacher started backing up and he pulled the trigger."
"The teacher was just lying there and he was limp, he didn't know what to do, he was just in a lot of pain," he told KOLO.
"And me and five other friends went to him and said come on we've got to get him to safety. We picked him up, carried him a little bit far and we left him because our vice principal came along and said go, go, go get to safety, get to safety. So we left the teacher there and we went to safety," Andrew said.
Family members of Landsberry described him as a hero who tried to persuade the young gunman to drop his weapon.
"To hear he was trying to protect those kids doesn't surprise me at all," his sister-in-law, Chanda Landsberry told the Gazette-Journal. "He could have ducked and hid, but he didn't. That's not who he is."
'WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING'
The incident marked the latest in a string of shooting rampages across the United States in recent years, some of them at schools, that have reignited a debate over gun control.
In Connecticut last December, 20 students and six adults were shot to death by a gunman at a school in Newtown before the attacker took his own life in what is considered one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
In Sparks, a 13-year-old eighth grader, Kyle Nucum, told the Gazette-Journal that he heard about half a dozen shots. Student Michelle Hernandez said she had seen the suspect before the shooting began.
"I heard him saying, 'Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me,'" Hernandez told the paper.
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini told a late-morning news conference that the shooting marked a tragic day for the city: "I just want to reiterate again that the city itself is very safe and this is just an isolated incident. But it's very, very tragic and I'm saddened to be here to have to tell you this."
Law enforcement officials said the student gunman opened fire at 7:16 a.m. local time, about 15 minutes before classes were scheduled to begin at the school, which serves about 700 seventh and eighth grade students.
Some 150 to 200 police officers descended on the school following the shooting and searched the grounds with bomb dogs, Reno deputy police chief Tom Robinson said. Agents from the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security were assisting in the investigation, he said.
Robinson said it was too early to tell if the boy, who was not immediately identified by authorities, was targeting anyone in the shooting rampage. Authorities also declined to immediately speculate on his motives.
Classes and after school activities were canceled at Sparks Middle School for the rest of the week and counselors would be on hand to work with students and staff members who were traumatized by the shooting, the school district said.