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Teen Apparently Slays Self Hours After Classmate Shoots Self in School

May 1, 1990

SHERIDAN, Ark. (AP) _ A second high school student fatally shot himself only hours after a fellow student professed his love for a girl and shot himself to death in front of her and classmates, officials say.

Thomas M. Chidester, a 19-year-old senior who died Monday evening of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, wasn’t in the American history class where junior Thomas Smith, 17, killed himself.

Chidester attended ″a class or two″ with Smith, said Steve Brown, assistant superintendent of the Sheridan School District. He referred questions about the second death to the Grant County sheriff’s office. Police and sheriff’s officials declined to comment immediately.

The deaths were the second and third suicides by Sheridan High School students in the last month, and fourth suicide in five weeks in the community of 3,000 about 25 miles south of Little Rock, police said.

Smith was pronounced dead about four hours after asking his teacher for permission to speak to his fifth-period class, Police Chief David Hooks said.

″I think he said he loved a girl, pulled the gun out and waved it around, put it to his forehead and pulled the trigger,″ Hooks said.

Rhonda Damron, 17, of Sheridan said Smith was talking about her.

″He said he wanted to say two things about his weekend: One, he was in love with me, and ... then he pulled the gun from the front of his pants and shot himself,″ she said.

Ms. Damron said she and Smith had been classmates since sixth grade and became ″very, very close friends″ last year. ″We would tell each other everything. That was all it was,″ she said.

She said history teacher Rick Ward gave Smith permission to speak to the class for five minutes ″if he didn’t say anything not proper for school.″ Ms. Damron said Smith ″was always interrupting the class.″

She said Smith took Ward’s place behind the podium in the class. ″I put my head on my desk and when I looked up he had the gun out,″ she said. ″Everyone started screaming, ’No. No.‴

She said Ward moved toward the teen-ager and told Smith not to use the gun. ″He slowed down then because it seemed like the faster he went, the faster Thomas went,″ Ms. Damron said. ″Then he shot himself.″

Brown said mental health counselors were at the school this morning to help students cope. He said teachers were told before school began how to deal with the students, and classes began as normal at 8:10 a.m.

Smith shot himself once in the head with a small-caliber handgun, police said. Authorities don’t know where the student obtained the gun, which was recovered.

An autopsy will be performed by the state medical examiner, Hook said.

Smith, who teachers said was not a discipline problem, was the son of a Grant County auxiliary sheriff’s deputy, Stanley Smith.

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