A student who believed he was the victim of bullying opened fire with a shotgun in a central California high school on Thursday, critically wounding one student and narrowly missing another before being talked down by a “heroic” teacher, law enforcement said.
The teacher suffered a pellet to the head and is expected to recover, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said during a news conference. At least two other students were lightly hurt in the panic after shots erupted around 9:30 a.m. inside Taft Union High School, in Taft, Calif., about 40 miles south of Bakersfield.
Youngblood told reporters that he could not confirm whether the suspect had indeed been bullied at the school.
"But certainly he believed that the two people he had targeted had bullied him," Youngblood said.
The 16-year-old male shooter was in custody, and a shotgun was removed from campus. The wounded student, also 16, was airlifted to a hospital in Bakersfield in critical condition after suffering a bullet to the upper right chest, Kern County Deputy Ryan Dunbier told the Daily News.
The gunman apparently had intended his targets and had planned his assault the night before, authorities said.
He walked in late to his first-period class armed with a shotgun and “multiple rounds,” aiming and firing at the first student, Youngblood said. Approximately 28 students inside the class scurried for cover.
The teen then “named a second (student)...he tried to shoot but missed,” the sheriff said.
The teacher, Ryan Heber, engaged the student in conversation, and a campus supervisor, Kim Lee Fields, rushed into the room, urging the teen to lay down his weapon.
They talked him into putting that shotgun down. He in fact told the teacher ‘I don’t want to shoot you,’” Youngblood said.
“The heroics of these two people (the teacher and campus supervisor) goes without saying," he said. "They could have just as easily tried to get out of the classroom and left students, and they didn't. They knew not to let him leave the classroom with that shotgun."
The shooter and his first victim reportedly had a “dialogue” before Thursday’s incident, but the details were not known.
Terrified students were evacuated, and worried parents gathered to pick their kids up in a nearby football field.
The mother of one student told KERO-TV her daughter called 911 and then called home. "There's just blood everywhere," she said. "My friend's been shot; my teacher has been shot," the frantic student told her mom.
The school shooting came as Vice President Joe Biden meets with victims of gun violence and gun rights groups to try and hammer out legislation to curb gun violence in the U.S. He is due to give recommendations to President Barack Obama next Tuesday.
The president put Biden in charge of a task force to examine gun control laws following the massacre of 20 small children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown Conn., on Dec. 14.
The FBI was also on scene to assist local authorities in Taft, a mostly agricultural town of about 10,000 people in Kern County, 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Local officers went room-to-room to clear the school, Dunbier told the News.
Law enforcement said the situation could have been worse.
“This is a tragedy,” Youngblood said. “But not as bad as it could have been.”