Calif. teen smirked while firing gun in classroom, witness says
TAFT, Calif. — Morgan Alldredge had just finished her oceanography test when a classmate suddenly walked in the open door to her science class with a shotgun.
“He didn't say anything. He just shot right away,” said the 16-year-old junior who was sitting by the doorway as the terrifying events unfolded on Thursday morning in Taft Union High School, about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The round struck a boy in the chest and shoulder. The shooter then quickly pumped the gun Alldredge identified as a Winchester 12-gauge and immediately fired another round at students trying to flee out a back door.
“He had a kind of disturbing smile on his face. Kind of a smirk,” said Alldredge. He then looked at her and mouthed the words “not you” as she sat frozen at her desk, Alldredge said. “All I want is Jacob,” he said.
That boy, Alldredge's former boyfriend, was hiding behind a desk in the classroom.
“He popped his head up and apologized for bullying him,” she said. “He kept saying, ‘I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' He was crying.”
Seeing the boy's emotion seemed to change everything for the gunman, Alldredge said. His shoulders “sort of slumped” and he began listening to the teacher, Ryan Heber, who was telling him to put down the gun, she said.
When he did, Kim Fields, a school official who hurried to the scene when gunshots were reported, grabbed the teen in a bear hug and sat him on the ground, Alldredge said.
On Friday, Kern County sheriff's deputies booked the 16-year-old suspect into Juvenile Hall on two counts of attempted murder and one count of assault with a deadly weapon. The boy shot in the chest remained hospitalized in critical condition but is expected to survive.
Neither boy's name was released.
Police are trying to piece together what led to the violence in the rural San Joaquin Valley community surrounded by farmland and oil wells. Many students described the boy as a loner who was called names. Police were investigating reports that the boy had compiled a “hit list” that led to him being suspended from school last year, said Kern County sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt.
School officials have declined to comment about the boy's disciplinary record.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood said investigators believe the gunman plotted the attack and targeted two people, one of whom is the wounded boy. Classmates described the victim as a Spiderman fan who played football and basketball for Taft.
“He planned the event,” Youngblood said. “Certainly he believed that the two people he targeted had bullied him, in his mind. Whether that occurred or not, we don't know yet.”
The high school was closed Friday, but students were allowed in to fetch backpacks and other belongings they left behind when they evacuated. Alldredge came with her mother, who allowed The Associated Press to interview her.
Many students who lingered wanted to recall their feelings about the shooting that is the talk of the town of 9,600. The social scene revolves around high school sporting events and movies at the vintage Fox Theater downtown.
Everyone agrees that Heber, who attended Taft High two decades ago, and Fields are heroes for stopping a gunman whose pockets were stuffed with many more shotgun shells, according to police.
Many students described Heber as “the nicest teacher I know.” Though Fields is an authority figure, students call him by his first name and say he knows everyone's name on campus.
Heber's father, David, said his son has been profoundly affected by events and had less than an hour's sleep Thursday night. Heber's wife, Emmy Lou, answered the door Friday when a reporter visited the couple's house, and was gracious in declining an interview.
“He's not ready to talk about it. He's still not even ready to talk to me about it,” she said, adding, “This is not something we've prepared for or know how to handle.”
When asked about how Heber feels about his newfound celebrity, his wife said: “To him, he's just a teacher and a dad.”
Heber's forehead was grazed by a stray pellet, but he was unaware he had been hit and didn't need medical attention.
David Heber, who also lives in Taft, described his son as a “teacher who knows every single one of his students — and not just by name.”
He said his son had been teaching science to different grade levels for seven or eight years. The younger Heber was student body president when he went to Taft, his father said.
“I don't think he's ever been in a fight in his life. He can always talk himself out of it,” he said.
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