Credit teacher and students for calm in Wisconsin crisis

Update Tuesday afternoon:

The 15-year-old student who held about two dozen students and a teacher hostage for several hours in a classroom at a Wisconsin high school died Tuesday at a hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Sophomore Samuel Hengel shot himself after police stormed a classroom at Marinette High School on Monday night.

Bravo to the students and teacher in a Wisconsin high school who kept their cool and their lives after an armed 15-year-old took them hostage Monday in class.

From early press accounts, it appears that the teacher and students managed to maintain calm in a situation that could have easily turned chaotic and deadly. I am not sure a teacher can ever prepare for this sort of drama, but teacher Valerie Burd rose to the occasion.

The only injuries were to the gunman himself and were self-inflicted.

I am not sure what we can learn from this crime, although I think that we’ll likely learn that this teen armed himself with weapons owned by family members. I don’t understand gun owners who fail to lock up their firearms. They assume that their son or grandson would never do something this crazy, but this Wisconsin student apparently had no history of behavior problems and was a good student.

In fact, Keith Schroeder, a former local middle school teacher who taught Samuel Hengel, told the Associated Presss,  “He’s a fine young man, and I’m totally taken aback. 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.”

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Marinette – A 15-year-old sophomore brought a loaded 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a duffel bag filled with ammunition into his Marinette High School classroom before taking 23 of his classmates and teacher hostage, the police chief said Tuesday morning.

Marinette Police Chief Jeff Skorik said bullets were also found in the student’s pockets at Bay Area Medical Center where he was taken Monday night after shooting himself as police stormed the classroom.

Skorik said the student suffered “a potentially life threatening” self-inflicted wound and was listed in grave condition.

It’s unknown how the boy got the weapons or how he brought them into the school.

Although the boy refused to talk to police and hostage negotiators he allowed the teacher Valerie Burd to have unfettered access with authorities. She kept in touch with police and described what was happening in the basement classroom.

The teacher “was nothing short of heroic. She kept a very cool head and kept the suspect as calm as possible,” said Skorik. “We really give that teacher a lot of credit.”

The police chief said had it not been for her actions, it’s possible the hostage situation could have ended differently.

Officials tried to establish contact with the student who refused to talk to them but could relay instructions through the teacher who was in phone contact.

The student had “a clean slate” and nothing in his background or experience are providing any clues to what led to Monday’s events, said School Superintendent Timothy Baneck.

The student showed up for 6th hour social studies class which starts around 1 p.m.

At some point during that class, the student asked teacher Valerie Burd if he could go to the bathroom “then went to his locker, we suspect, and brought the bag back to the classroom,” said Baneck.

When students for Burd’s 7th period class showed up they saw a note on the door telling them to go to the library to study. It’s likely the hostage taker put the note on the door.

When asked whether the students in Burd’s 6th period class were missed when they didn’t show up for their 7th period classes – there are seven periods in the class day – Baneck said they were.

Yet it wouldn’t be until around 3:45 p.m. when the high school principal went to the class to check on the whereabouts of Burd and her students, opened the door, was confronted by the gun-wielding student and left to call police.

The principal made the 911 call at 3:48 p.m.

Baneck, who has been superintendent for the district for only a year, did not know how long Burd has worked at Marinette High School but said she was a veteran teacher. Burd is being lauded as a hero for keeping the hostage taker calm, relaying information from police to the student and looking after the other students.

Indications are the crisis began well before authorities were notified.

Dan Kitkowski, regional editor for the Marinette Eagle Herald and the parent of a Marinette High School senior, told a Journal Sentinel reporter that the situation unfolded during a sixth period Western Civilization class that began between 1:30 and 2 p.m.

Student Zach Campbell told The Associated Press that he and his classmates had been watching a film about Greek myths at the end of the school day when the hostage-taker pulled out a gun and shot the projector. He then fired another shot.

“It was a very scary event,” Campbell said. The teen made students put their cell phones in the middle of the room and broke his own phone when it rang. The class then spent about six hours talking to him about hunting and fishing.

“We just wanted to be on his good side,” Campbell said. He said the gunmen seemed depressed. “But he didn’t really seem like he wanted to hurt anybody.”

No metal detectors were in use at the school at the time of the incident. The police chief said metal detectors were used to check bags and students several years ago – he estimated it was six to eight years ago – after a rash of bomb threats at the high school.

Marinette, a town of about 12,000 people, sits on the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The high school has an enrollment of about 700 students.

–By Maureen Downey, AJC Get Schooled blog

15 comments Add your comment


November 30th, 2010
12:14 pm

Perhaps this student hostage taker was on an antidepressant.

The Physicians Desk Reference states that SSRI antidepressants and all antidepressants can cause mania, psychosis, abnormal thinking, paranoia, hostility, agitation, etc. These side effects can also appear during withdrawal. Also, these adverse reactions are not listed as Rare but are listed as either Frequent or Infrequent.

Go to where there are over 4,300 cases, with the full media article available, involving bizarre murders, suicides, school shootings/incidents [57 of these] and murder-suicides – all of which involve SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc, . The media article usually tells which SSRI antidepressant the perpetrator was taking or had been using but sometimes the media article just says “antidepressant” or “medication for depression”.

David Sims

November 30th, 2010
12:25 pm

You know, the entire reason for taking hostages is to paralyze their defenders. A really serious terrorist would begin shooting hostages the moment the police arrived and would not quit until the last hostage was dead. Then he’d shoot it out with the police until they killed him. When the police, with their actions, say “You’re bluffing and we’re going to prove it by storming your position,” the real terrorist proves that, no, he wasn’t bluffing.

David Sims

November 30th, 2010
12:37 pm

I’d like to point out that the teenager’s name was withheld by the media because of his minority status. That’s standard procedure, I believe. The names of crime offenders under the age of 18 are not reported, unless they are to be tried as adults.

Oh. I almost forgot. There IS one other exception, apparently.

A couple of skateboarding teens played a prank on Jewish temple-goers by arranging some chairs into a pattern that Jews do not like to see. This was SUCH a serious crime that the usual rules about not reporting the youth’s names was ignored. Not only did the New York Daily News—which is Jewish-owned, I believe—publish the boys’ names, but it also published their home addresses. Note also the language used by the press to describe the teenagers: dimwitted, bigots, dopey duo. Clearly, offending the Jews by rearranging their seats is a crime far worse than holding a gun on a classroom full of Wisconsin kids and their teacher.

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Dr. Proud Black Man

November 30th, 2010
1:48 pm

@ David Sims

What do the Jews have to do with this? You just can’t stop with trying to portray Jewish and Black people in a negative light can you?

Ohh Man

November 30th, 2010
2:10 pm

@Dr. Proud Black Man… while agree there is no real point to the obvious jab at Jews… I think you are mistaken about: “…withheld by the media because of his minority status…” I don’t think its meant as “Black” minority but as “he is a minor”.

This country needs to wind itself down!


November 30th, 2010
2:39 pm

The student took the class hostage around 2 pm and no one noticed anything amiss until 3:45 pm. This alone indicates a serious breach in the school’s security. Apparently no one–administrators, the school’s resource officer, or hall monitors–were doing any sort of hallway patrol. Unfortunately I think this lack of “presence” is very common in high schools today even though we give great lip service to caring about keeping our schools safe.

Dr. Proud Black Man

November 30th, 2010
2:44 pm

@ Ohh Man

David has a past here.

Ohh Man

November 30th, 2010
2:49 pm

Yeah, total lack of presence. These schools should be doing a better job. My first recommendation is to shove a broom up the teachers butt so that they can sweep while they teach… then they can use the janitors as security since they will have more time on their hands.

You people want all these things to be done but don’t want to pay for it. It takes time and money… you ask another professional to do the kind of overtime teachers and other school staff do week in and out and you would hear bloody murder in the papers and news. States need to start putting school first and invest in these kids futures. That is how you avoid this kind of thing… not locking them down.

Ohh Man

November 30th, 2010
2:55 pm

@Dr. Proud Black Man… oh, gotcha.


November 30th, 2010
3:09 pm

@Ohh man–
I’m a teacher. I think there needs to be more “presence” in our schools and yes, I think taxpayers should pay for it. Security should not be the teachers’ job; that is not what we are trained for, and teaching and security are two completely divergent tasks. Teachers are now picking up the slack for the parents and communities who neglect to teach kids how to behave and that actions have consequences.

If I was held hostage in my office (the classroom) for hours before anybody noticed, you can bet I would sue my employer for unsafe work atmosphere.

Ole Guy

November 30th, 2010
6:05 pm

It would certainly be wise for educational leadership to find out as much as possible concerning the circumstances leading up to this tragic event. Anyone who would choose to hide their head in the “sand of situational non-awareness”, and not see fit to relate some of the stresses within the Georgia educational camp to those which might exist within that of Wisconsin would surly be kidding only him/herself. While the conditions faced by teacher surely impact upon the student body, it is not unreasonable to see connections between teacher challenges and students’ reactions.


November 30th, 2010
7:47 pm

Like Booklover, I’m appalled that it took almost 2 hours for anyone to figure out that the situation was occurring. If nothing else, wasn’t the librarian surprised when all the 7th period students showed up without the teacher? It’s a small school – no one noticed that Ms. Burd’s 6th period had gone AWOL?

In the News ~ Dec. 1 - IEANEA

December 2nd, 2010
12:02 pm

[...] Credit teacher and students for calm in Wisconsin crisis [...]

David Sims

December 3rd, 2010
11:05 am

@Proud Black Man. Still not using your real name, I see.

As Ohh Man pointed out, I wasn’t referring to blacks by using the word “minority.” I was referring to persons under the age of 18.

The reason I mentioned the treatment of the prank at the Jewish temple is to illustrate a double standard. A minor (i.e., a child or a teenager) commits aggravated assault with a gun, but the people he threatens are not Jews, then the media will do him the benefit of withholding his name from public release. I suppose that is done so nobody will be tempted to exact vengeance illicitly on his family and to “give the kid a chance” to mature prior to beginning his adult criminal record.

On the other hand, if the people he threatens are Jews, then the media will report his name and at least the approximate location of his home, presumably so that anyone so inclined might exact vengeance illicitly on his family. A kid who offends the Jews will not be given a chance to mature prior to beginning his adult record.

Of course, these two cases do not a statistical survey make. However, they ~do~ imply that such a survey ought to be made, just to see how pervasive this double standard really is.

And whatever you might think of my calling attention to the vindictive mishandling of a minor’s crime by the Jewish press, the far more important point is that this mishandling did happen. Because it did happen, I’m entitled to say that it happened. I do the Jews no injustice by saying that it happened. The same is true when I mention any other arrogant, hypocritical, or mendacious display of Jewish political power.

Remember the persecution and firing of former UGA cheerleading coach Marilou Braswell? I said plenty about that, at the time. I just didn’t say it here.