Brandishing a loaded handgun at teachers and students in at least two Hastings Middle School classrooms Monday, an eighth-grade student spread terror but fired no shots before being tackled and subdued by a school police officer.
"It was the closest thing to a school shooting without firing a gun," said Michael McMenomy, Hastings police chief. "We don't know whether he didn't want to shoot or whether the gun jammed."
School officials had ordered the building locked down at about 10:30 a.m., when the 14-year-old was spotted in a hallway with the gun. He burst into a fourth-hour science class and pointed the gun at teacher Mike Rapatz and his students, who were too stunned to even leave their seats.
He fled back into the hallway, pointing the gun at staff members who hadn't heard the lockdown announcement and trying to break into other classrooms as frightened students sent text messages to friends warning them of the approaching danger.
Confronting one locked door, the student used the gun to break out a pane of glass, thrust his arm through the opening and unlocked the door. Again he pointed the gun at the class, but fled without shooting.
Moments later, Tim Connell, the school's police officer, caught up to the youth as he ran down a flight of stairs and out of the building, where officers from Hastings and Dakota County were waiting. But it was Connell who tackled the youth from behind, forcing him to the ground where he was arrested.
Connell, reached by phone late Monday, deferred comment to the police chief, but added, "I will tell you this, though: By the grace of God, no one was hurt. We owe it all to him."
The student remained in custody at the Dakota County Juvenile Detention Facility Monday night. Authorities said they expect to charge the suspect, who was identified only as a foster child in his first year at the Hastings school, with multiple felonies.
The lockdown was lifted shortly after noon, leaving students, parents and school officials and police with at least two puzzling questions: Why did the student bring the gun to school and why didn't he fire?
"I have no idea," said Principal Mark Zuzek. "There was no information about a potential motive for him to come into the building with a handgun."
Parent Angie Brown said the student tried unsuccessfully to enter her daughter's classroom, leaving the child terrified as she sent text messages to her friends about what was happening. Brown says she's uncertain how her daughter will respond Tuesday when she returns to school. She said she was upset that school leaders didn't alert her sooner to the potential tragedy unraveling at the school.
"What made me mad was I didn't find out until my daughter texted me," Brown said.
Police said they had had no contact with the boy before Monday's incident, but that they are getting reports from other local agencies that had contact with the boy in the past. Police also said they believe the gun used in the incident belongs to the foster family.
Incident was a first
McMenomy said he couldn't recall any other gun incidents at a Hastings school. Some students have brought knives to school, he said, but the vast majority of those incidents were unintentional.
After the arrest, police kept the school locked down to search the building for accomplices, a sweep that took more than an hour and turned up nothing.
School officials said they have asked students to tell them if they have firsthand information about the incident. In a note to parents and guardians placed on the school's website, Zuzek asked that students turn over to police any written or electronic communication that may have some bearing on the case. "If your son or daughter was in a classroom the student entered, they have already been asked to provide a written statement. Additional interviews will occur over the next several days," Zuzek's note said.
School staff followed their crisis response program to the letter, which they practice five times a year, Zuzek said.
Afterward, Zuzek gathered the staff at the local Days Inn motel to go over their procedures and discuss what will happen in coming days. If they could change anything, said Zuzek, it would be to put unbreakable glass in the door window panes.
The principal added that the vast majority of students were not directly involved in the incident. Nonetheless, he said, considering the psychological development of middle school students, the school plans to have additional staff on hand in the counseling office for the next few days to help students.
This is at my town's middle school, I know the police officer who tackled him. I'm more disappointed at the police/sheriff response, it's the old Columbine "set the perimeter and wait" and not an immediate 2-person entry team. The good? The officer who stopped him is a really good guy I know from church and a class I taught, and I'm glad he didn't have to shoot a kid.