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.”
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