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Witnesses recount frightening scene as student opens fire at Sparks Middle School


Kevin Clifford / AP

A Sparks Middle School student cries with family members after being released from Agnes Risley Elementary School, where some students were evacuated to after a shooting at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev. on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 in Sparks, Nev.

Sparks Middle School Shooting

Jeannette Vasquez, 14, and Carlos Lara, 13, were among hundreds of students and residents who attended a candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, in honor of slain teacher Michael Landsberry and two 12-year-old students who were injured after a fellow student open fire at the school on Monday, before turning the gun on himself.  Launch slideshow »
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Swat team members secure the scene near Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., after a shooting there on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Authorities are reporting that two people were killed and two wounded at the Nevada middle school.

SPARKS — Students and parents described a terrifying scene Monday morning near Reno, where a young man showed up on campus at the Sparks Middle School and wounded two students, killed a teacher and then apparently shot himself.

The alleged shooter was described by police as a “student/suspect” who came to the school before classes began Monday.

“He shot a student and then a teacher tried to stop him and he shot the teacher,” Abner Lopez, father of a 13-year-old eighth-grader, told The Sacramento Bee Monday morning. “The kids kind of scattered.

“School was not open yet, so they ran off into the field. It’s a pretty tragic scene.”

Police said the shooter was “neutralized” and was described as a “student/suspect.”

Lopez said his son, Abner Jr., first realized something was wrong when he heard the first gunshots, which apparently were directed at a student the shooter knew.

“He just heard the gunshots,” Lopez said. “Then he saw the teacher telling him to calm down, to put the gun down, and that’s when he shot the teacher.”

Lopez said his son was in the teacher’s math class along with the suspected shooter.

Authorities have not yet released the names of the school staff member they say was killed or the gunman, but students and local media have identified the teacher who tried to stop the shootings as Michael Landsberry, a 45-year-old eighth-grade math teacher, soccer coach and former Marine who celebrated his fifth wedding anniversary last Friday.

A woman who answered the door at Landsberry’s home declined to comment earlier Monday, but students have posted tributes to him online and a “Rest Easy Mr. Landsberry” page has been created on Facebook that refers to him as the “best teacher there ever was.”

His class website explains his approach to teaching and offers this advice to students:

“I have one classroom rule and it is very simple: Thou shall not annoy Mr. L.”

Landsberry was also a member of the Nevada National Guard, and the Guard was planning a news conference later Monday, although a spokesman said it would not confirm the identity of the slain teacher until the coroner’s office and police officially released the name.

Police remained tight-lipped in an afternoon news briefing about the identity of the shooter or a possible motive.

Authorities said the two wounded students were both 12 and expected to survive. One was shot in the shoulder, the other in the abdomen.

The shooting occurred about 7:16 a.m., shortly before classes were to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Kyle Nucum, a 13-year-old student, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he was on a basketball court with others when he heard a popping sound and saw a boy in a school uniform who was about 14 and had a gun. The boy was confronted by a teacher who was then shot, Nucum told the newspaper.

“We heard a pop, like a loud pop,” he said.

He said he and others ran across the street and took shelter in a woman’s home.

Police said officers were on scene within three minutes of the first shots being fired and praised staffers and teachers at the school who rushed out onto the campus to herd students inside and lock them in classrooms.

“We have a lot of heroes today,” Washoe County schools superintendent Pedro Martinez said.

Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras said the two wounded students were taken to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.

The medical center said it received both patients at 7:45 a.m. and that their conditions had improved from the initial assessment that both were critically wounded. As of 11:20 a.m., the medical center said, one victim was listed as being in serious condition and the other in fair condition.

Mieras said the two dead at the school were “a staff member at the school (and) the other deceased at this point in time appears to be a student/suspect.”

Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said “our hearts go out to all those who have been affected.”

“I want to reiterate again that the city itself is very safe, that this is just an isolated incident,” he said. “I don’t believe this is any kind of a spree that’s going to go on.”

Barbara Clark, president of the Washoe County School District board, said student and staff safety is paramount and that counselors are being brought in to help.

“I want to say how tragic this is and how saddened we are,” Clark said.

School was canceled and students were being reunited with parents at Sparks High School, with counselors being brought in to assist them.

Lopez said he was heartened by the rapid response of law enforcement and the school district and that he expected his son to take advantage of the counseling services.

“We want to thank God for our kids and the families, and at the same time also thank the authorities and the school district for the work they did,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of us are prepared for something like this.”

The shooting prompted statements of concern from Nevada officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, who said he 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 added.

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