Police probe US school shooting

2012-02-28 08:59
Alissa Sully, aged 17, hugs a friend before a prayer service for victims of a school shooting at Chardon Assembly of God in Chardon, Ohio. (Mark Duncan, AP)

Alissa Sully, aged 17, hugs a friend before a prayer service for victims of a school shooting at Chardon Assembly of God in Chardon, Ohio. (Mark Duncan, AP)

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Chardon - A teenager opened fire in the cafeteria at a suburban Cleveland high school on Monday, killing one student and wounding four others before he was chased from the building by a teacher and captured a short distance away, authorities said, adding that an investigation was ongoing.

A student who saw the attack up close said it appeared that the gunman targeted a group of students sitting together and that the one who was killed was gunned down while trying to duck under the cafeteria table.

FBI officials would not comment on a motive. And Police Chief Tim McKenna said authorities "have a lot of homework to do yet" in their investigation of the shooting, which sent students screaming through the halls at the start of the school day at 1 100-student Chardon High School.

An education official said the suspected shooter is a Lake Academy student, not a student at Chardon High. Brian Bontempo declined to answer any questions about the student. Bontempo is the superintendent of the Lake County Educational Service Centre, which operates the academy.

The alternative school in Willoughby serves 7th through 12th grades. Students may have been referred to the school because of academic or behavioural problems.

The suspect's name has not been released because he is a juvenile. The FBI said he was arrested near his car 800m from Chardon.

Bullying unclear

Teachers locked down their classrooms as they had been trained to do during drills, and students took cover as they waited for the all-clear in this town of 5 100 people 50km from Cleveland.

One teacher was said to have dragged a wounded student into his classroom for protection. Another chased the gunman out of the building, police said.

Fifteen-year-old Danny Komertz, who witnessed the shooting, said the gunman was known as an outcast who had apparently been bullied. But other students disputed that.

"Even though he was quiet, he still had friends," said Tyler Lillash, aged 16. "He was not bullied."

Long before official word came of the attack, parents learned of the bloodshed from students via text message and cellphone and thronged the streets around the school, anxiously awaiting word on their children.

Two of the wounded were listed in critical condition, and another was in serious condition.

Aspiring computer repairman

"I looked up and this kid was pointing a gun about 3m away from me to a group of four kids sitting at a table," Komertz said. He said the gunman fired two shots quickly, and students scrambled for safety. One of them was "trying to get underneath the table, trying to hide, protecting his face".

The slain student, Daniel Parmertor, was an aspiring computer repairman who was waiting in the cafeteria for the bus for his daily 15-minute ride to a vocational school.

His teacher at the Auburn Career School had no idea why Parmertor, "a very good young man, very quiet", had been targeted, said Auburn superintendent Maggie Lynch.

Officers investigating the shooting blocked off a road in a heavily wooded area several kilometres from the school.

Federal agents patrolled the muddy driveway leading to several spacious homes and ponds, while other officers walked a snowy hillside. A police dog was brought in. It wasn't clear what they were looking for.

Teacher Joe Ricci had just begun class when he heard shots and slammed the door to his classroom, yelling, "Lockdown!" to students, according to Karli Sensibello, a student whose sister was in Ricci's classroom.

Familiar face

A few minutes later, Ricci heard a student moaning outside, opened the door and pulled in student Nick Walczak who had been shot several times, Sensibello said in an e-mail.

Ricci comforted Walczak and let him use his cellphone to call his girlfriend and parents, Sensibello said. She said her sister was too upset to talk.

Heather Ziska, aged 17, said she was in the cafeteria when she saw a boy she recognised come into the cafeteria and start shooting. She said she and several others immediately ran outside, while other friends ran into a middle school and others locked themselves in a teachers' lounge.

"Everybody just started running," said 17-year-old Megan Hennessy, who was in class when she heard loud noises. "Everyone was running and screaming down the hallway."

Rebecca Moser, aged 17, had just settled into her chemistry class when the school went into lockdown. The class of about 25 students ducked behind the lab tables at the back of the classroom, uncertain whether it was a drill.

Text messages started flying inside and outside the school, spreading information about what was happening and what friends and family were hearing outside the building.

School cancelled

"We all have cellphones, so people were constantly giving people updates - about what was going on, who the victims were, how they were doing," Moser said.

The school had no metal detectors, but current and past students said it had frequent security drills in case of a shooting.

Anxious parents of high school students were told to go to an elementary school to pick up their children.

Joe Bergant, Chardon school superintendent, said school was cancelled on Tuesday and grief counsellors would be available to students and families.

- AP
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