TAFT, Calif. — A 16-year-old boy was in critical condition after a classmate interrupted a first-period class at Taft Union High School southwest of Bakersfield, confronted him by name and fired a 12-gauge shotgun into his upper body.
The shooter, also 16, then tried to shoot a second boy and missed before an unarmed science teacher talked him down and apparently took the weapon as the other students fled the classroom.
Police officers arrived after the teacher had disarmed the shooter, and took him into custody.
The teacher, Ryan Heber, was struck by a pellet round to the head but not seriously injured and refused treatment, authorities said.
“If it weren’t for this teacher and his quick response, we don’t know what would have happened,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
Police said a school supervisor, also unarmed, helped Heber distract the shooter. There were no security guards or police immediately on hand to help them. The school’s armed police officer was not on duty Thursday because he had been delayed by snow, authorities said.
The shooting, which also resulted in injuries to two other Taft students, occurred just weeks after the catastrophic school shooting in Newton, Conn. Calls from students inside Taft brought their frantic parents pouring into streets surrounding the high school. Police locked down the school for hours and searched it. School officials announced the school would remain closed Friday.
The boy who was shot remained in surgery at Kern Medical Center Thursday afternoon. Police described his condition as critical but stable. The other injured students included a girl who was close to the shooter as he fired; she was being treated at a local hospital for possible hearing damage. A third student received minor injuries, and may have tripped over tables, police said.
Youngblood said the he shooter, who was not identified by police, is a student at the school and arrived late.
The shooter had apparently had some previous dealings with the boy he targeted and wounded. According to police, he came into class with the shotgun around 9 a.m., spoke to him directly, and then fired, striking him once.
Authorities said witnesses’ recollections were confused but that possibly as many as 20 rounds had been fired. It was unclear when Heber was shot. The teacher declined to discuss what happened in his classroom.
Youngblood described Heber as distraught after the incident; the teacher later sent a text message to his mother to say he was OK, according to his father, David Heber.
The elder Heber said his son is 40, has been teaching for about seven years and was an Eagle scout. “He likes people, he likes the students and he stands up for them,” said the father, 70.
Moeloa Savea, 52, who was at her son’s home opposite the school’s science center, said she was picking up trash in the front yard when she saw a young man walk by with a shotgun along his side. He entered the school through an unlocked gate on Wildcat Road, and she heard two shots then saw a woman run out of school screaming for help. Savea said she called 911.
Danielle Overton said her daughter, Corey, 16, was next to the student who was shot. She got a phone call from her. “She was just crying, telling me that there was a shooting at the school … There’s blood everywhere.”
In other classrooms, students said they heard an announcement about the shooting over the intercom. Several students said it caused confusion because they had been told of an upcoming lockdown drill — the subject of a meeting by organizers on campus that morning, authorities said — and they assumed it signalled a practice exercise. The sound of helicopters soon told them otherwise.
Police searched the building and slowly released the students to their parents. Into the afternoon, there were still students leaving the field with parents, some wrapped in blankets against sleet and cold.
Many parents and students at Taft compared the incident to the shootings in Newtown, Conn., as did various public officials who hastened to issue condemnations. In a statement denouncing the gun violence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said her father had attended the school.