No one injured in Joplin middle school shooting

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

JOPLIN, Mo. -- A 13-year-old student wearing a long, dark green trenchcoat and carrying a replica of an AK-47 fired one shot in a middle school Monday morning and told two administrators, "please don't make me do this," officials said.

No one was injured, and the student was taken into custody.

The student, a seventh-grader who was not identified, pointed the gun at two students as he entered Memorial Middle School and was confronted by an administrator, who tried to talk him into putting down the assault rifle, said Joplin police spokesman Lt. Geoff Jones.

The administrator, assistant superintendent Steve Doerr, told the student, "You don't have to do this, there is another way," superintendent Jim Simpson said.

The boy refused to put the gun down and fired one shot into the ceiling. Doerr then went into a nearby office to call police.

The student kept trying to fire, but the rifle jammed. Joplin Police officer Curt Farmer said the student was aiming at the ceiling when the gun jammed.

"We don't believe he was trying to fire at administrators or students," Farmer said. The student then left the building, followed by another administrator, principal Steve Gilbreth.

Police arrived shortly after and arrested the boy behind a nearby building.

Farmer said officers found a note in the student's duffel bag indicating he had placed an explosive in the school, which has about 750 students. The bag also contained military manuals, notes on how to build an improvised explosive device and detailed drawings of the school.

The student also was wearing a T-shirt over his head with holes cut out for eyes, Farmer said.

"This was quite well thought out," Farmer said. "He had been planning this for a long time."

Simpson said authorities did not know whether others were involved in the possible attack. Simpson said police told him the boy had a fascination with the deadly Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, but police declined to verify that information.

"There is a possibility that this is not related to Joplin, but rather to things that the [shooter] has followed nationally, including Columbine," Simpson said.

Jones said police were not aware of any motivation for the shooting. School administrators said Simpson told them the student had no major disciplinary problems and "no indication of why he was doing this."

Jones said the weapon belonged to the suspect's parents, who had the gun in a gun safe at home. The parents told police they didn't think their son knew the combination to the safe, but that he apparently did. Police said it was not uncommon for people in the area to own assault weapons.

The shooting happened about 7:45 a.m., 10 minutes before school started.

Deron Moore, an eighth-grader, said the school was locked down and an announcement was made that someone with a gun had come into the school.

"A lot of the kids were scared," Moore said. "After they said on the intercom that there was someone with a gun, I kind of went into shock."

A mother who was dropping her son off at the school didn't let him get out of the car when she saw Gilbreth "waving crazily" as police cars pulled up behind her.

Blake Spivak, former advertising director for The Joplin Globe, sat in her car with her son, Cooper, as Gilbreth walked back into the school flanked on either side by police carrying guns and dressed in flak jackets.

Spivak said Gilbreth later came out and gathered the students together to let them know the student with the gun had been arrested.

"He assured them that their friends were safe and that no one had been hurt," Spivak said. "The principal seemed very much in control and in command of the situation."

Paul Zuraw, 42, a neighbor of the student's family, said they were a "regular family."

"The kids were never running crazy or anything," Zuraw said. "They seemed well-behaved."

Gov. Matt Blunt, who was in Joplin on Monday for a meeting, said because of the recent spate of school violence it would be worth considering proposals from lawmakers to allow teachers to carry firearms in schools.

"It's an interesting idea worth discussing," Blunt said.

Blunt also said the state Department of Public Safety and the Missouri School Board Association were preparing for an Oct. 19 telecast to schools and first responders, to discuss school safety and related issues.

Joplin, which has about 40,900 residents, is in southwest Missouri, on the Kansas border about 140 miles south of Kansas City.

Schools across the country have been on alert after three deadly school shootings in three states in the span of a week, and several schools have been locked down or closed entirely during the past two weeks because of threats.

In Pennsylvania Amish country Monday morning, church bells tolled across the region in remembrance of the five young girls who were shot to death at their one-room schoolhouse one week earlier.

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