CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - A student armed with a shotgun and seeking to confront a teacher opened fire at a Colorado high school on Friday, wounding at least two classmates before apparently taking his own life, law enforcement officials said.
The student entered Arapahoe High School in a Denver suburb around midday brandishing the gun, and asked for the teacher by name before shooting two students, seriously wounding one of them, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said.
The teacher immediately fled the school and was not injured, Robinson said. The gunman’s body was later found in a classroom at the school.
“The shooter is dead as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds,” Robinson said.
The shooting in the Denver suburb of Centennial took place just eight miles from the scene of one of the deadliest school massacres in U.S. history at Columbine High School, where two students gunned down 13 classmates and staff before killing themselves in 1999.
Robinson said there was no sign the shooting was related to the anniversary, due on Saturday, of last year’s shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself.
Holly Schaefer, an 18-year-old senior at Arapahoe High School, said she was in mathematics class when she and fellow students heard a loud bang. That was followed shortly by another bang, and “then we knew definitely it was a gunshot.”
Schaefer said her teacher immediately initiated lockdown procedures, shutting the door to the classroom as students huddled in a corner of the room.
After about 30 minutes, Schaefer said, they heard police calling out on the other side of the door. Officers eventually cleared her classroom and as students were being escorted out of the building, she said she saw blood on the hallway floor.
‘SHAKING, CRYING, FREAKING OUT’
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who pushed through tougher gun control legislation this year following Newtown and last year’s attack in a Colorado movie theater, despaired the shooting as an “all-too-familiar sequence, where you have gunshots and parents racing to the school, and unspeakable horror in a place of learning.”
Television images from the high school showed students running out with their hands raised and gathering on a track field. Some students were shown being patted down in the aftermath.
Nearby businesses were also evacuated as dozens of police descended, guns drawn, on the scene. Robinson said officers in Colorado were “slowly and methodically” clearing the school and transporting students by bus to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents.
“We were having fun and laughing, and then all of sudden we heard a really loud bang and my teacher asked what it was, and then we heard two more, and we all just got up and screamed and ran into a sprinkler system room,” student Whitney Riley, 15, told CNN. “It sounded like it was coming from the hall that was near us.”
“We were shaking, we were crying, we were freaking out. I had a girl biting my arm,” she said. “We stayed quiet and we heard a whole bunch of sounds. We heard people yelling, we heard walkie-talkies.”
Robinson said the incident lasted just 14 minutes, and that police fired no rounds. It appeared that the gunman had acted alone, and authorities were not aware of any previous threats to the teacher who had been targeted. The relationship between the student and teacher was not immediately clear.
A device believed by police to be an improvised Molotov cocktail was also found on the grounds and an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad was on hand to identify it and search for other possible explosives.
He said investigators were speaking with family members of the suspect, whom he declined to identify, and that counselors were working with students and teachers from the high school.
Reporting by Keith Coffman in Centennial and Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Sandra Maler and Gunna Dickson