US boy says he came face-to-face with shooter
SPARKS, Nevada (AP) — Students cowered in fear and pleaded for their lives as a 12-year-old boy went on a schoolyard rampage with a handgun he brought from home, waving the weapon at frightened classmates and shooting a math teacher in the chest on a basketball court.
The boy opened fire Monday morning on the Sparks Middle School campus in Nevada, wounding two boys and killing the teacher before he turned the gun on himself.
Washoe County School District police revealed Tuesday that the seventh-grader brought the 9mm semi-automatic Ruger handgun from his home, but authorities were still working to determine how he obtained it. The student’s parents were cooperating with authorities and could face charges in the case, police said.
The community has been left struggling to make sense of the latest episode of school violence to rock the United States less than a year after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, left 26 dead. That shooting re-ignited debate over gun control in general and how best to protect U.S. schools in particular.
Eighth-grader Angelo Ferro recalled burying his face in his hands and pleading for his life as the boy waved the gun and threatened to shoot. Another seventh grader and Ferro’s math teacher, Michael Landsberry, lay gunned down nearby.
“The whole time I was hoping Mr. L was OK, we’d all get through it, it was a bad dream,” Ferro told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Ferro, 13, was in the schoolyard with friends when the violence started.
He heard a pop about 15 minutes before the morning bell rang but didn’t think much of it. Then he saw an injured boy clutching his wounded arm, and he watched Landsberry walk toward the gunman and take a bullet to the chest.
Unable to get inside the locked-down school, Ferro and others crouched against the building for safety but soon came face-to-face with the armed student.
Ferro didn’t know the boy but said he and other frightened classmates tried to talk him out of firing. But something distracted the boy, and he didn’t shoot.
“You could hear the panic,” Ferro said. “He left, thank God.”
A series of emergency calls made from the school also reflected the terror of the situation, including an ominous report of “teacher down.”
“Can you send please send police out here,” a panicked student told a dispatcher. “There’s a kid with a gun.”
Authorities say they’re withholding the shooter’s name out of respect for his family. They provided no motive for the shooting but said they’ve interviewed 20 or 30 witnesses and are looking into any prior connections between the victims and the shooter.
“Everybody wants to know why — that’s the big question,” Sparks Deputy Police Chief Tom Miller said. “The answer is, we don’t know right now.”
Under Nevada law, it is illegal to allow anyone under 18 to handle a gun without supervision. The offense rises to a felony if there was substantial risk the child would use the firearm to commit a violent act. However, the law doesn’t apply if the gun was stored securely or if the child obtained the weapon unlawfully.
Also on Tuesday, law enforcement and school officials again lauded the actions of Landsberry, a 45-year-old former Marine who tried to stop the rampage before he was killed.
“I cannot express enough appreciation for Mr. Landsberry,” Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez said at a news conference. “He truly is a hero.”
Students said they saw Landsberry walk calmly toward the shooter and ask him to hand over his weapon before he was killed. School District Police Chief Mike Mieras said Landsberry’s actions gave some students enough time to run to safety.
Police said they believe the shooter at one point tried to enter the school but couldn’t open the door because of emergency lockdown procedures.
After killing Landsberry, the boy fired at a second student, hitting him in the abdomen. He then shot himself in the head.
The two 12-year-old boys who were wounded are in stable condition and recovering.
Students from the middle school and neighboring elementary school were evacuated to a high school after the shooting, and all classes were canceled. The middle school will remain closed for the week, while an adjacent elementary school is set to reopen Wednesday.
Sparks, just east of Reno, has a population of roughly 90,000.
Landsberry coached several youth sports. He also served two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada National Guard and was well-known in the school community, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said. Landsberry served in the Marine Corps from 1986 to 1990 and was stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Okinawa, Japan, according to military records.
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Garrett attended middle school with Landsberry in Reno before serving as his supervisor in recent years at the Nevada Air National Guard.
“Every one of the people I have talked to just knew that Mike was in there,” Garrett said. “He was the guy that would have jumped in there to stop the bullets from hitting other kids. And sure enough, it was.”
Rindels reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.