Updated 11-30-10 12:48 a.m. C.T.
MARINETTE, Wis. (AP) — A high school student who pulled a handgun and shot a film projector as the school day wound down held 23 classmates and a teacher hostage for about five hours Monday before shooting himself when police busted down a classroom door.
Terrified Marinette High School students did their best to keep the 15-year-old gunman calm, spending hours talking to him about hunting and fishing, said student Zach Campbell – one of five hostages who were released after convincing the teen they had to use the bathroom.
“We just wanted to be on his good side,” Campbell said. He said the gunman seemed depressed. “But he didn’t really seem like he wanted to hurt anybody.”
Officers who had positioned themselves outside the classroom said they heard three gunshots shortly after 8 p.m. and busted through the door, Police Chief Jeff Skorik said. The gunman, who was standing at the front of the classroom, shot himself as officers approached, the chief said.
Skorik declined to release the teen’s name, saying he was taken to an area hospital and his condition was not available Monday night. No one else was injured.
Cartridge casings from both a .22 caliber semiautomatic weapon and a 9 mm semiautomatic were found at the scene.
The gunman had refused to communicate with officials during the standoff, Skorik said, but allowed the teacher to speak with authorities by phone. The teen had made his classmates put their cell phones in the middle of the room and broke his own phone when it rang, Campbell said.
Keith Schroeder, a former Marinette middle school teacher, said he had the gunman as a student and also knows the teacher well. He said the teen’s family is extremely involved in all their boys’ lives.
“He’s a fine young man, and I’m totally taken aback,” Schroeder told The Associated Press. “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.”
During the standoff, dozens of people kept away from the scene by firefighters congregated in the parking lot of a nearby hair salon in the town of about 12,000 people that sits on the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
“This is not a good mood, there are a lot of people who are scared, a lot of students who are worried,” said Jason Chaltry, 32, whose nephew is a sophomore at the school but was not in the classroom.
The high school has an annual enrollment of approximately 800 students, according to its website.
“They just spent a whole bundle of money on classroom doors to make them secure, but they don’t have metal detectors at the school,” said councilman Bradley Behrendt.
Choral teacher Bonita Weydt said she was talking with a teacher in another classroom at the end of the day when principal Corry Lambie came in.
“I said, `Corry, what’s going on?’ and he said, `Get out of the building,’” Weydt said.
Anxious parents met throughout the evening with officials at the county courthouse, where they were later reunited with their students amid hugs and tears of relief. Many declined to comment as they ushered their children to waiting vehicles.
Marinette Schools Superintendent Tim Baneck noted the community went through an emergency response training exercise last year.
“So the local law enforcement officials as well as the educators were all involved in a mock shooter situation, so it is actually very fresh in our minds in terms of the training we just went through,” he said.