The 16-year-old boy had just wounded a classmate he claimed had bullied him, fired two more rounds at students fleeing their first- period science class, then faced teacher Ryan Heber.
“I don’t want to shoot you,” he told the popular teacher, who was trying to coax the teen into giving up the shotgun he still held.
Recounting the suspect’s words, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said the confrontation was enough of a distraction to give 28 students time to escape their classroom on Thursday at Taft High School.
The violence came just minutes after administrators had announced new lockdown safety procedures prompted by the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut.
“Just 10 minutes before it happened our teachers were giving us protocol because of what happened in Connecticut,” said student Oscar Nuno, who was across campus from the science building when an announcer on the speaker system said the school was under lockdown “and it was not a drill”.
The teen victim — who classmates said played football last year for the Taft Wildcats — was in critical but stable condition at a Kern County hospital. He was expected to undergo surgery this weekend.
The suspect — who was reportedly suspended last year after producing a list of classmates he wanted to kill because they taunted him at school — surrendered his shotgun to Mr Heber and campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields.
His pockets were stuffed with more ammunition, Mr Youngblood said. “This teacher and this counsellor stood there face-to-face not knowing if he was going to shoot them. They probably expected the worst and hoped for the best, but they gave the students a chance to escape,” he said.
Mr Heber’s forehead was grazed by a stray pellet, but Mr Youngblood said the teacher was unaware he had been hit and did not need medical attention.
Administrators closed the school yesterday as residents of the remote town of 9,400 about 120 miles (193km) northwest of Los Angeles tried to make sense of what happened.
The 16-year-old suspect’s name is on the lips of everyone in town, but authorities aren’t releasing it because he’s a juvenile.
He had felt bullied by the victim for more than a year, said Mr Youngblood, who added that the claim was still being investigated.
Trish Montes described her neighbour as “a short guy” and “small” who was teased about his stature by many.
She said her son had worked at the school and taught the boy last year.
“All I ever heard about him was good things from my son,” Ms Montes said. “He wasn’t Mr Popularity, but he was a smart kid. It’s a shame. My kid said he was like a genius.”
On Wednesday night, the teenager went home and plotted his attack, Mr Youngblood said.
He found a gun that authorities believe belonged to the suspect’s older brother and went to bed that night plotting revenge against two students, the sheriff said.
Picture: Paramedics transport a student wounded during a shooting on Thursday at San Joaquin Valley high school in Taft, California. Picture: AP
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