Mineral County educators responded with shock and dismay about the news of a student who opened fire on Sparks middle school campus Monday that ended in the death of a math teacher who was trying to protect other children.
The suspected gunman was also dead, and authorities say no shots were fired by law enforcement.
Two other students were wounded in the violence that erupted around 7:15 a.m., shortly before classes began Monday. One was shot in the shoulder, and the other was hit in the abdomen. Both are listed in stable condition.
The shooter, a 12-year-old student, killed himself with the gun after a rampage that occurred in front of 20 to 30 horrified students who had just returned to school from a weeklong fall break. Authorities did not provide a motive for the shooting, but did say they believe the boy brought the gun from home. The boys parents were cooperating with authorities and could face charges in the case, police said.
“I wake up often worrying about [a potential shooting in Mineral County] and I think about it going on in Sparks really shows how close to home it can hit,” said Stephanie Keuhey, principal of Hawthorne Elementary School. “It shows that anything is possible in this day and age, sadly. It’s terrifying.”
In the wake of the shooting, there are many questions to be answered, but perhaps the most pressing is: Can this happen here?
“It can happen anywhere,” said Mike Domagala, principal of Mineral County High School and Junior High. “We just have to take as many steps as it takes to ensure the safety of our kids. And for me, it’s [to] ensure the safety of everybody in this building. Everybody has to be safe.”
Neither Domagala nor Keuhey were comfortable talking about many of the security measures at the school for safety reasons — “You never know who the shooter is going to be,” Keuhey said — but one of the mainstays of security at both schools is controlling who can get onto campus.
At the high school, there are three sets of eyes on the front door at all times, visitors are usually greeted at least once as soon as they walk in, Domagala said.
At Hawthorne Elementary School, the staff has been working diligently to ensure that all visitors check in at the office.
“We’re really trying to stress the importance of parents and other visitors of checking in at the office and wearing a visitor’s pass,” said Keuhey, who’s son, Jarred, attends Mineral County High School.
There are lockdown procedures, which are frequently practiced, at both schools, but neither principal we comfortable describing the procedure.
“I think that the reality sinks in for every parent that this could happen at any school across the country, and having it happen so close to home left me speechless as I came in this morning,” Keuhey said. “Not only for my own son, but for the students at Hawthorne Elementary.”
For Domagala, the priority at school was business as usual. Although he appeared shaken by the shooting, when he interacted with students he was his usual, cheerful self.
“I don’t want to alarm the kids, I don’t want to disrupt the classroom,” he said. “[…] We will make our counselor available for the kids if they knew somebody up there and they need to talk.”
Police said between 150 and 200 officers responded to the shooting.
Students from the middle school and next door elementary school were evacuated to the nearby high school, and classes were canceled.
At the evacuation center, parents walked with their arms around their children, some of whom were in tears.
“We came flying down here to get our kids,” said Mike Fiorica, whose nephew attends the school. “… It’s really chaotic. You can imagine how parents are feeling. You don’t know if your kid’s OK.”
The shooting happened on the school’s campus, but outside the school building itself, according to police.
Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement after hearing about the shooting.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific shooting at Sparks Middle School this morning. My administration is receiving regular updates and the Nevada Highway Patrol is assisting at the scene,” he said. Sandoval extended his thoughts and prayers to those affected.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, offered his condolences to students, parents and staff who experienced “a traumatic morning.”
“No words of condolence could possibly ease the pain, but I hope it is some small comfort that Nevada mourns with them. I stand by to be of any assistance if there is anything that can be done,” Reid said in a statement.
The school, located in a working class neighborhood, enrolls about 700 students in 7th and 8th grades.
Fallen teacher Michael Landsberry was being hailed for his actions during the shooting outside of the middle school.
“In my estimation, he is a hero. … We do know he was trying to intervene,” Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson said.
Landsberry, 45, was a military veteran and leaves behind a wife and two stepdaughters. Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said Landsberry served two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada National Guard.
“He proudly served his country and was proudly defending the students at his school,” Martini said.
The violence erupted nearly a year after a gunman horrified the nation by opening fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., leaving 26 dead. The Dec. 14 shooting reignited debate over how best to protect the nation’s schools and whether armed teachers should be part of that equation.
Washoe County School District held a session in the spring in light of the Connecticut tragedy to educate parents on what safety measures the district takes.
Sparks, a city of roughly 90,000 that sprung out of the railway industry, lies just east of Reno.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.