Wisconsin students chatted with gunman to keep him calm
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
MARINETTE, Wis. (AP) — Trapped in their classroom with a student gunman, a group of terrified Wisconsin high schoolers worked desperately to keep their captor calm by chatting and laughing with him about hunting and fishing.
The 15-year-old gunman eventually shot himself as police stormed the room at Marinette High School hours later Monday evening, but his 23 hostages emerged unharmed. Student hostage Zach Campbell said the gunman seemed depressed, but he didn’t think he meant his classmates any harm.
“I don’t know why he did that,” Campbell said. Six of his good friends were in the class, Campbell added.
Authorities also said they did not know what might have motivated the boy. Police said he fired three shots before they broke down the door, but it was unclear what he was trying to hit.
“As far as what caused this, it seems to be a mystery,” Marinette Police Chief Jeff Skorik said early Tuesday. “We have not been able to identify anything that precipitated this incident.”
The gunman was taken to a nearby hospital. Authorities have declined to release his name and his condition was unknown early Tuesday. Skorik said that the wound was serious, but he didn’t know where the student had shot himself.
The standoff began near the end of the school day, authorities said. Campbell said the class was watching a movie when the gunman shot the projector, then fired a second round.
He had two handguns and refused to let anyone leave, Campbell said. He demanded everyone dump their cell phones in the center of the room. When the gunman’s own cell phone rang, the boy snapped it in half, Campbell said.
He wasn’t interested in talking with the teacher and told her to be quiet, Campbell said. But the gunman chatted with his fellow students, who tried to keep him talking about how he hunted and about fishing. Students even got the gunman to laugh, Campbell said.
The gunman refused to communicate with officials during the standoff, Skorik said, but allowed the teacher to speak with them by phone.
Choral teacher Bonita Weydt said she was talking with a teacher in another classroom at the end of the day when Principal Corry Lambie came in.
“I said, ‘Corry, what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘Get out of the building,”’ Weydt said.
Firefighters kept people away from the school. Anxious parents met throughout the evening with officials at the county courthouse.
After nearly five hours, the boy let Campbell and four other students out to use the bathroom. Police outside the classroom whisked them to safety.
About 20 minutes later, Skorik said, officers heard three shots and broke down the door. The gunman, who was standing at the front of the classroom, shot himself as officers approached, the chief said.
Students were taken by bus to the courthouse, where they were reunited with their parents.
Keith Schroeder, a former Marinette middle school teacher, said he had the gunman as a student and also knows the boy’s teacher well. He said the teen’s family is extremely involved in all their boys’ lives.
“He’s a fine young man, and I’m totally taken aback,” Schroeder told The Associated Press. “Surprised, flabbergasted to say the least because this is a great family. It doesn’t fit any of the things or the molds that you read about people. I couldn’t say enough good things about the family.”
Skorik said the district attorney was reviewing the case and would decide whether to file any charges.
Marinette, a city of about 12,000 people, lies about 50 miles north of Green Bay on the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. About 800 students attend the high school, according to its website.
Marinette Schools Superintendent Tim Baneck noted the community went through an emergency response training exercise last year.
“So the local law enforcement officials as well as the educators were all involved in a mock shooter situation, so it is actually very fresh in our minds in terms of the training we just went through,” he said.
City Councilman Bradley Behrendt said the district spent “a whole bundle of money” on classroom doors to make them more secure, but the school doesn’t have metal detectors.
Authorities said the school would be closed Tuesday. District officials said they planned to offer counseling for students.
Associated Press writers Colin Fly and Carrie Antlfinger contributed from Milwaukee. Writer Scott Bauer and photographer Mike Roemer contributed from Marinette.