A shooting at Marshall County High School in Western Kentucky killed a 15-year old boy and a 15-year-old girl and wounded 14 others, including four who were in critical condition.
“It was one right after another — bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” said witness Alexandria Caporali. “You could see his arm jerking as he was pulling the trigger,” she told the Associated Press.
State police said the victims ranged in age from 14 to 18 years old and included 14 boys and six girls. Besides those injured by gunfire, four other students were injured.
The suspect is a 15-year-old boy who was arrested at the school by a deputy. The boy will be charged with two counts of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder, said Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders.
Bailey Nicole Holt died at the scene, and Preston Ryan Cope died at a hospital, Sanders said at a news conference Tuesday night.
During the shooting, Caporali, 16, said she grabbed a stunned friend and ran into a classroom as their classmates hit the floor.
“No one screamed,” she said. “It was almost completely silent as people just ran.”
Caporali said the shooter kept firing until he ran out of ammunition and took off running, trying to get away.
“He was determined. He knew what he was doing,” she said.
Lexie Waymon, 16, said she and a friend were talking about the next basketball game, makeup and eyelashes when gunshots pierced the air.
“I blacked out. I couldn’t move. I got up and I tried to run, but I fell. I heard someone hit the ground. It was so close to me,” Waymon said. “I just heard it and then I just, everything was black for a good minute. Like, I could not see anything. I just froze and did not know what to do. Then I got up and I ran.”
Her friend, Baleigh Culp, told the AP in a text message that they were joking and laughing until they heard a loud bang that sounded like someone’s books hitting the floor.
“That’s what I expected it to be, until I saw a body drop on the ground,” Culp wrote. “There was bullets flying everywhere. I ran straight out the door and headed to the highway as fast as I could.”
Waymon did not stop running either, not even when she called her mom to tell her what happened. She made it to the McDonald’s, her chest hurting, struggling to breathe. “All I could keep thinking was, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening,’” she said.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center said Tuesday night that it was caring for four boys, all in critical but stable condition, and a girl who was listed in stable condition.
The shooting occurred just before 8 a.m. at the school in Benton, in southwestern Kentucky, according to Sanders. The student entered the school, which starts at 8 a.m., with a handgun and opened fire, Sanders said.
First-responders arrived nine minutes after the shooting began, Sanders said.
“These children belong to this community and to specific families in this community,” Bevin said. “And this is a wound that will take a long time to heal and, for some in this community, will never heal. Please respect these families.”
Preston was one of six patients taken to Vanderbilt.
Trauma team leader Oscar Guillamondegui said three boys had gunshot wounds to the head, including the boy who died. One boy had an arm wound, and another was shot in the chest and abdomen, the doctor said.
Vanderbilt said the girl who was in stable condition arrived by ambulance Tuesday night.
Andrea Austin told CNN that her 17-year-old son Daniel was among those who was shot.
Daniel, a special needs student, was shot in the right arm and might have to have it amputated, his mother said. She said a teacher and student took him to a hospital in a car.
Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Rivers posted on Facebook that Gage Smock, who attends the church, was another of the victims.
“He was shot and transported to Vanderbilt earlier, where he is doing better now,” the church said. “They will do surgery but are waiting a couple days to let the swelling go down.”
More people were shot Tuesday at Marshall County High School than during another Kentucky mass school shooting at Heath High School in nearby McCracken County 20 years ago. Student Michael Carneal fired 11 shots into a group of classmates in the lobby of Paducah’s Heath High School. Three students were killed and five were wounded.
Sanders said Marshall students did exactly as they were trained.
State police had recently shown students how to respond in an active-shooter case, Sanders said.
The high school was locked down, and no one was allowed inside either entrance, according to the Marshall County Tribune-Courier. Students were bused to nearby North Marshall Middle School, where parents were allowed to pick up their kids, the Tribune-Courier said.
Bevin said the shooting is a wound that will take a long time to heal.
“This is an opportunity for Kentucky — though we would not want to be in this position — this is an opportunity for us to show how these situations can be handled,” he said.
At a news conference later Tuesday, Sanders spoke to the “human toll” the shooting has taken, not only on the community, but also specifically on the first responders who worked at the scene.
He said one of the first state troopers to arrive Tuesday morning saw the young woman who died and initially thought she was his daughter, who had been dropped off at the school just before the shooting.
“He had to go over to convince himself it was not his daughter,” Sanders said.
The shooting was reported in the high school commons, according to a Broadcastify recording of law enforcement scanner traffic from initial calls. Police have not confirmed the details in that recording.
“Five shots fired. Four down at the high school at Marshall ... one unresponsive,” the dispatcher said.
There were reports of students down in the school’s tech center, according to the dispatcher. Police found the weapon, a pistol, in the back side of the high school, a sheriff deputy told dispatchers.
A business owner, Mitchell Garland, said he saw nearly 100 students running out of the high school, crying and screaming, according to the AP.
Marshall County High School had 1,374 students during the 2016-17 school year, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. All Marshall County public schools will be closed Wednesday, television station WPSD reported.
Sanders said Kentucky Emergency Management has helped set up a resource center where families can come to pick up supplies, such as glasses lost at the school during the shooting, and a counseling center.
“There are many that will need grief counseling,” he said.
Schools, churches and community groups in and around Marshall County planned vigils to honor the victims.
Sanders said state police were still at the school Tuesday night and would continue to process the scene over the next few days. Reports of how many people were injured fluctuated throughout the day as more information became available from police. The state police Critical Incident Response Team is leading the investigation, with assistance from other local and federal agencies.
In November, the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office hosted an active-shooter training session, according to WPSD. The deputy who arrested the shooting suspect Tuesday made use of that training .
At the time of the training, Sheriff Kevin Byers said, “We cannot take the attitude it will never happen here, because just like 20 years ago, it’s never gonna happen here, and look at what happened at Heath High School. … It can happen here.”
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett posted a statement on Twitter Tuesday night, lauding the “quick action” of first responders and the “outstanding” response of “our courageous faculty and staff at all levels.”
Not long after the shooting, condolences, praise for law enforcement and calls for prayer poured forth from lawmakers in the state and in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was closely tracking the reports of the “tragedy in Benton, #Kentucky and Marshall County High School.”
“My thoughts are with the students, teachers, faculty, and the entire community,” he posted on Twitter. “Thank you to the first-responders who continue to put themselves in harm’s way to protect others.”
Kentucky Sen. Danny Carroll, who is from Marshall County, said in a statement that he was heartbroken.
“This is a sad time for our close-knit community in Marshall County, and my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this senseless tragedy,” he said. “Many thanks to our first-responders who contained the situation and prevented it from escalating further. I remain in communication with the governor’s office and Kentucky State Police as resources are provided to our community.”
The area’s U.S. representative, James Comer, said his senior field representative, Martie Wiles, was with local officials in Marshall County and was keeping Comer updated.
“This morning’s senseless and evil act in Marshall County is news that horrifies us all,” Comer said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with the students and faculty at Marshall County High School, where there has been a tragic school shooting. I stand with the school, first-responders and the entire Marshall County community, we are all united with you today.
At the General Assembly in Frankfort, House Education Chairman John Carney, R-Taylorsville, shared news of the shooting at that committee’s morning meeting.
“I would like to ask everyone to remember the folks there in Marshall County in your prayers,” Carney said.
The committee had just approved House Bill 143, which would require the Kentucky Department of Education to establish a school safety and crisis line where people could report unsafe violent or criminal activities. The bill now goes to the full House.
Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, who chairs the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, began the committee’s meeting with a prayer for the victims.
Valarie Honeycutt Spears contributed to this report.